Elon Musk’s Twitter is in the crosshairs of the US federal agency, which has confirmed it is investigating the micro-blogging platform.

CNN reported that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has acknowledged a wide-ranging investigation into Twitter’s privacy practices, after a House subcommittee on Tuesday disclosed a dozen letters from the agency to the company seeking information about its operations under new CEO Elon Musk.

This is not the first time that US regulators have signalled alarm at the antics of Elon Musk and Twitter.

FTC ‘deep concern’

Just before he completed his takeover of Twitter in October 2022 federal authorities were reportedly investigating Elon Musk – but it was unclear at the time which federal agencies were involved and what specific actions they were concerned about.

Twitter at the time did however hint at the reason, with it’s filing merely saying that US authorities were looking into Musk’s “conduct” linked to the deal.

Then in November 2022, a spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the federal agency was closely watching Elon Musk’s moves at Twitter with “deep concern”.

Fast forward a number of months and the FTC has now acknowledged a wide-ranging investigation into Twitter’s privacy practices.

According to CNN the FTC acknowledgement marks a rare public confirmation of a probe linked to alleged violations of an FTC settlement, which Twitter first signed back in 2011.

That 2011 agreement was designed to ensure Twitter improved its protection of user data.

The confirmation also highlights the intense scrutiny surrounding Twitter, as officials try to determine whether violations of the settlement may have occurred under Twitter’s new management.

For example besides axing over half of Twitter’s workforce, Musk also fired nearly all of Twitter’s external contractors responsible for content moderation on the platform.

Musk also disbanded Twitter’s volunteer Trust and Safety Council – one hour before it was due to meet with him.

All of these actions have spooked regulators, concerned about Twitter’s compliance with European and US laws.

2011 agreement

The FTC probe could have repercussions for Twitter’s business at a time when Musk is slashing staff and rushing out new paid features to offset notable losses in ad sales and bolster the company’s bottom line, CNN reported.

If proven, violations of Twitter’s consent decree could pave the way for billions in fines, new limitations on Twitter’s operations or potentially even binding obligations on Musk or other executives.

And it is not just US authorities that are concerned with the direction Twitter is taking under Elon Musk. EU regulators have repeatedly reminded Musk of Twitter’s requirements under the Digital Services Act, violations of which could result in fines of up to 6 percent of Twitter’s annual global revenue.

Last month Twitter’s compliance with European rules on tackling disinformation were publicly highlighted, after the European Commission criticised Twitter’s efforts as falling short compared to its rivals.

According to the CNN report, among other things, the FTC letters sought testimony from Twitter about its staffing changes due to resignations and firings following Musk’s takeover of the company.

The FTC asked about Twitter’s selective release of internal company data to independent journalists as part of the so-called Twitter Files, and requested that Twitter name the journalists to whom Musk had released confidential Twitter information, the report said.

The report also claims the FTC asked Twitter to produce thousands of Slack messages related to Musk, details of its Twitter Blue subscription program, and information about the office equipment it was reportedly selling as part of its cost-cutting moves.

Across a dozen letters, the FTC made more than 350 requests for information, according to the report.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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