FTC faces pressure from Twitter, Republicans over privacy investigation

A hearing to review FTC Chair Lina Khan's leadership turned into a debate over the commission's role overseeing Twitter's privacy practices.
Lina Khan, nominee for Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), speaks at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

Republicans sparred with Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan over the agency’s investigation into Twitter’s data and privacy protection practices in an oversight hearing on Thursday.

The hearing meant to examine GOP allegations of FTC “mismanagement” under Khan came just after Twitter on Thursday asked a federal court to terminate the consent order giving the commission oversight of its privacy practices. In the filing, lawyers for Twitter alleged the agency was “imposing new and burdensome demands and treating the Consent Order as a license for invasive scrutiny of any move X Corp. makes, no matter how remote from the data privacy and security concerns.” Elon Musk changed the legal name of Twitter to X. Corp.

In his opening remarks, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, cited work by his Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government alleging targeted harassment of Twitter, noting the committee found that the FTC issued more than 350 requests for information from Twitter, including communications about Musk.

“This is outrageous. This is unacceptable. And it’s the kind of behavior that occurs in banana republics, not in the United States of America,” Jordan said.


Specifically, Jordan has targeted the FTC for requesting communications between Twitter and journalists who were given access to internal Twitter data.

“Twitter has sensitive data on 150 million Americans, including private messages,” said Khan. “We need to make sure, especially given the history going all the way back to 2010, that we’re doing everything to make sure Twitter’s complying with [the consent order].”

Jordan also brought up Twitter’s claims that an employee at a firm auditing Twitter alleged in a deposition that the FTC had predetermined the outcome of its privacy investigation. Khan said she was unfamiliar with those claims, saying the commission is “squarely focused on the privacy and security implications of any decisions that have been made.” Letters sent from the FTC to Twitter including in Thursday’s court filing called the company’s use of the quoted claims “selective” and denied any impropriety.

Twitter entered into a consent decree over privacy violations in 2011. Last year, prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter agreed to pay $150 million to settle a case with the FTC and Department of Justice that found Twitter violated its 2011 consent decree by misleading users about how it was using phone numbers collected to verify their accounts.

Democrats defended Khan’s work and the agency’s investigation into Twitter.


“Protecting user privacy is not political. Rushing to defend the company at all costs, and investigating the agency that attempts to hold that count that company accountable, merely because the new owner shares your political views, is another matter,” says Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

The FTC recently opened an investigation into OpenAI over whether the company has violated consumer protection laws and mishandled user data, The Washington Post first reported Thursday. The demand for records asks about an incident earlier this year in which OpenAI exposed some users’ chat history. The investigation adds to a growing push by the agency to crack down on the companies’ misuse of data in AI products and is the first major investigation of an AI firm.

Tonya Riley

Written by Tonya Riley

Tonya Riley covers privacy, surveillance and cryptocurrency for CyberScoop News. She previously wrote the Cybersecurity 202 newsletter for The Washington Post and before that worked as a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. Her work has appeared in Wired, CNBC, Esquire and other outlets. She received a BA in history from Brown University. You can reach Tonya with sensitive tips on Signal at 202-643-0931. PR pitches to Signal will be ignored and should be sent via email.

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