FTC Fines Twitter For ‘Deceptive’ User Data Sharing

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The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on the social media company before, and now demands $150 million in penalty fees for sharing user information.

The Federal Trade Commission is ordering social media giant Twitter to pay $150 million in federal fines for its data collection practices related to targeted advertising. 

Announced on Wednesday, the FTC filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging that Twitter requested users to submit their phone numbers and e-mail addresses to protect their accounts, only to then grant third party advertisers access to this data. 

These actions violate the FTC’s 2011 order stemming from a similar incident with Twitter. 

“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," said FTC Chair Lina Khan. "This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”

Sharing user data posed a serious risk to sensitive personal information, the FTC alleges, and in 2011, the company’s data sharing allowed hackers to gain administrative control over Twitter and dismantle accounts.

Now, the FTC alleges that over the course of 2014 to 2019, the account protection measures that requested e-mail addresses and phone numbers were actually used for targeted ads. 

Federal regulators added that this “deceptive use” of users’ login credentials also violates more stringent EU-U.S. Privacy Shield laws and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield agreements. The allegations hinge on Twitter failing to make users aware of the sharing of their personal information. 

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the privacy of consumers’ sensitive data,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The $150 million penalty reflects the seriousness of the allegations against Twitter, and the substantial new compliance measures to be imposed as a result of today’s proposed settlement will help prevent further misleading tactics that threaten users’ privacy.”

Regulating data brokers has been a popular topic on Capitol Hill, with pending legislation looking to limit the abuse of social media users’ online information.