Twitter Whistleblowers Have Meaning For Elon Musk’s Pick-Up Deal

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Recently there was an amazing revelation from the whistleblower of the former leader of the security company Peiter Zatko.

He also alleged that Twitter suffers from various other security vulnerabilities that over the years have failed to fix. (Twitter has widely defended itself and criticized Zatko’s allegations as “full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies.”)

Musk, who initially said he wanted to “beat spam bots” after buying Twitter, later raised the alarm that the company may be significantly under-reporting the amount of spam and fake accounts, though he has little real evidence beyond his own experience on the platform to back up the claims.

He has made the issue the center of a legal battle over the $44 billion acquisition, even as Twitter argues Musk is simply trying to get out of a deal he now has buyer remorse amid a market downturn.

Experts also say the success of Musk’s bot argument will likely come down to how closely the Delaware Court of Chancery judges want to focus the case on specific language in the contract that doesn’t mention bots versus allowing the billionaire’s more tangential argument.

In addition, Musk’s legal team could try to take other claims in disclosures unrelated to the bot — including allegations that Twitter made false statements to regulators like the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission about its privacy and security practices — as additional reasons he should be able to stay away from the deal.

“Over the years, across many public statements and SEC filings, Twitter has made material misrepresentations and omissions … regarding security, privacy, and integrity,” Zatko’s disclosure stated. “Twitter’s misrepresentations are particularly impactful, given that they were directly at issue in Elon Musk’s takeover of the company.”

Zatko, better known as “Mudge,” is a prominent ethical hacker turned cybersecurity executive whose career has also included stops at Google and the Department of Defense.

He was hired as Twitter’s security leader after a major hack at the company in 2020 and was fired in January this year, a move he claims came after he tried to blow the whistle internally about security flaws and alleged possible fraud by the company’s senior leaders.

Its disclosure paints a picture of a company rife with security vulnerabilities that threaten user data and platform functionality, and which it says could endanger U.S. national security.

Zatko also alleged that Twitter’s top executives had misled users, regulators, and even the company’s own board about its information security conditions. “Please open an investigation into violations of the law by Twitter,” the statement said.

A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to kabarinesia in response to revelations that Zatko was fired for ” ineffective leadership and poor performance.”

“What we have seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our data privacy and security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context,” the spokesperson said.

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

Twitter has asked the court to force him to follow through with the agreement, and the case is set to go to trial in Delaware Chancery Court in October.

On Tuesday, after news of Zatko’s disclosure broke, Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro said the billionaire’s legal team had subpoenaed Zatko in a dispute with Twitter. “We found a way out and other key employees were curious about what we had found,” Spiro told kabarinesia.

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Zatko said he holds as part of his broader stock portfolio, which includes shares in a number of individual companies, a small number of Tesla (TSLA) shares acquired over the past 10 years, as well as a slightly larger stake in Twitter as his compensation plan there includes shares.

Zatko began documenting his concerns about misleading statements made to Twitter’s board on security in December; Musk first reported his large stake in Twitter on April 4, before agreeing to acquire it later that month.

‘No Appetite’ To Properly Measure Bots

In February 2019, Twitter announced that it would start using new metrics to measure the size of its audience when the company reports its financial results every quarter.

“Our goal is not to disclose only the largest number of daily active users we can,” Twitter said in a letter to shareholders at the time, adding that it felt the new metrics would give advertisers a better sense of the value of ads placed on the platform.

The metric also means that the number of users Twitter reports to shareholders – often a determining factor in the company’s share price-will tend to fluctuate if, for example, the company deletes a large bot network made up of multiple accounts.

Since the Switch, Twitter has reported that fake and spam accounts make up less than 5% of mDAUs, a figure that has been repeated in its fight with Musk and one billionaire has been questioned.

(Twitter has acknowledged in SEC filings that the figure relies on significant assessments that may not accurately reflect reality.)

Musk initially said in May that his deal to buy Twitter was “on hold,” and apparently asked about the prevalence of bots as a percentage of total users. Agrawal responded in a tweet thread a few days later, reiterating Twitter’s calculation that fake and spam accounts make up less than 5% of mDAU and defending the company’s measurements.

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