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Whistleblower alleges Twitter deceived regulators on security and spam, Twitter says it’s a ‘false narrative’


(NEW YORK) — Former Twitter head of security, Peiter Zatko, alleged in a whistleblower federal complaint last month that the social media giant had numerous wide-ranging information security system lapses, according to a copy of the complaint made public on Tuesday.

According to the complaint, the company prioritized growth over policing spam and bots on the platform, as some employees stood to receive $10 million bonuses based on increasing daily users.

In response, Twitter blasted Zatko, who worked at the company from November 2020 to January 2022, saying he was spreading a “false narrative about Twitter” and was fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance.” The company also said Zatko’s public remarks are “riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context.”

In a statement, attorneys representing Katko rebuked the characterization from Twitter.

“Mr. Zatko repeatedly raised concerns about Twitter’s grossly inadequate information security systems to the Company’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors throughout his tenure,” they said.

They also said, “On January 19, 2022, a mere two weeks after Mr. Zatko clashed with Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Kordestani about these issues, Twitter abruptly terminated his employment.”

The complaint, first reported by The Washington Post, becomes public as Tesla CEO Elon Musk — the richest person in the world, according to the Forbes Billionaires list — has sought to terminate his $44 billion bid to acquire Twitter over concerns about spam accounts on the platform.

Twitter sued Musk last month in an attempt to force him to complete his purchase of the company after he declared in early July he was walking away from the deal.

Alex Spiro, an attorney at law firm Quinn Emanuel who represents Musk in that suit, said the firm has subpoenaed Zatko, who goes by the nickname “Mudge.”

“We found his exit and that of other key employees curious in light of what we have been finding,” Spiro said in a statement.

Whistleblower Aid, the lawyers that are representing Zatko, told ABC News in a statement “the disclosure speaks for itself and Mudge stands by everything in it.”

Whistleblower Aid confirmed Zatko’s complaint and the authenticity of the document published by The Washington Post. Zatko sent his complaint in July to the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice.

The complaint makes a host of allegations about Twitter’s failure to secure its platform.

The complaint alleges that Twitter made false and misleading statements to users and the FTC about the company’s efforts to protect the privacy and integrity of the platform for more than a decade.

In turn, Twitter violated a settlement that the company reached with the FTC in 2011 in which the company agreed to create a “comprehensive information security program,” the complaint says.

According to the complaint, the misleading remarks made by Twitter include a tweet from CEO Parag Agrawal in May, in which he said that the company is “strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can.”

A Twitter spokesperson told ABC News: “Mr. Zatko was fired from his senior executive role at Twitter in January 2022 for ineffective leadership and poor performance. What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context.”

“Mr. Zatko’s allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders. Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be,” the spokesperson added.

The whistleblower complaint is the latest in a series of major developments for Twitter and Musk as they remain locked in a legal dispute over his decision to terminate his acquisition of the company.

Previously, Musk has claimed that Twitter has not provided him with an accurate estimate of the number of bots on the platform. Twitter has rebuked that claim, saying it has provided Musk with information in accordance with conditions set out in the acquisition deal.

Last month, a Delaware court determined that the trial in a lawsuit brought by Twitter against Musk should take place in October, granting an expedited timeline for the case.

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