Digital Transformation Social Media

Twitter hit with a $150m fine over illegal use of security data to target ads

By John Glenday | Reporter

May 26, 2022 | 4 min read

Twitter has been landed with a $150m fine after federal officials declared that the social media firm had flouted a 2011 agreement not to utilize personal information to target advertisements.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice contend that Twitter illegally harnessed personal phone numbers and email addresses to allow advertisers to constrain the reach of advertiser campaigns for six years, despite promising regulators it would not.

The service collates personal data such as phone numbers and email addresses to authenticate users, but a church-and-state separation of core activities and commercial operations was not adhered to, with such data improperly used up to September 2019.

Twitter

Over 140 million Twitter users unwittingly handed over personal information

FTC chair Lina Khan said: “As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes, but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads.”

Prosecutors state that over 140 million Twitter users unwittingly handed over personal information in this way, having placed their trust in Twitter’s internal systems and controls.

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Twitter is cooperating fully with the FTC over the matter, with chief privacy officer Damien Kieran eating humble pie in a blog post to admit that user data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising,” but promises that such practices are not employed today.

Rather than take Kieran’s word at face value, however, the agreement reached with the FTC will see regulators and an independent monitor installed to ensure compliance with advertising practices for two decades.

Twitter is not the only social media firm to have been found out in this way, with Facebook taking heat for its use of multi-factor authentication data. And that’s not even mentioning its gargantuan $5bn 2019 fine around the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The public slap-down dovetails with a high-profile $44bn takeover of Twitter by entrepreneur Elon Musk – a deal now in doubt as an audit of bot accounts takes place.

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