The Washington Post/Washington Post via Getty Images
When Twitter’s former security chief testifies before a Senate committee on Tuesday, he will be the second high-ranking technical staff member in less than a year to warn federal lawmakers about the struggles within the social media platform.
The timing highlights both public scrutiny of social media companies lately and Twitter’s precise position.
Federal Detective Peter Zatko complaint It is caught in the middle of a high-stakes legal drama as Twitter attempts to force Tesla CEO Elon Musk to execute a $44 billion deal to buy the troubled company.
Zatko, also known by his hacker name, Mudge, accused Twitter of lenient security practices, failing to protect user privacy, misleading regulators in violation of the 2011 settlement, and intentionally employing foreign government agents and giving them access to sensitive systems and data.
Twitter has Pay for retreat regarding the allegations, saying that Zatko was fired for poor performance and “opportunistically seeking to do harm”.
This push and pull is familiar to Frances Hogan, who publicly called out her former employer, Facebook, at a Similar hearing about a year ago.
“It helps highlight the fact that important parts of the communications infrastructure – Twitter, Facebook and TikTok – are held together with duct tape and string,” Zatko said. “He took a huge personal and certainly a huge professional risk by providing this information.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has set a date he heard for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Three hours later, Twitter shareholders are set to vote on whether to go ahead with the merger agreement that Musk wants to dissolve. The company says it remains committed to closing the deal on the original terms.
Francis Hogan: People should be “shocked” by the weakness of security systems
Nearly a year ago, Francis Hogan testified before Congress about Facebook. Looking back, she said, it was a defining moment in her journey from technology director to activist.
Haugen says the public assumes that Silicon Valley companies have deep pockets to maintain security. But Zatko paints a different picture, claiming that if the datacenter goes down, Twitter may not be able to restart itself again.
“This is a symptom of the level of underinvestment at which the public must be shocked. We recognize that private companies run important parts of the telecom infrastructure,” she said. “We need public accountability and transparency about how these systems operate, because I guarantee you there are more skeletons in the closet than we see on Twitter alone.”
She says social media companies tend to prioritize growth. Stronger security or better protection of users’ data does not increase audiences.
“The critical parts for public safety are the cost centers,” she said. “If this is not essential to the bottom line, companies will not invest in it enough. Unfortunately, this means that it comes at the expense of public safety.”
Investing in security infrastructure and personnel is also costly. Twitter has struggled financially for years, yet the platform is deeply ingrained in public life.
It has a ‘big impact.’ That’s why [Zatko] “I went to work there,” said Margaret O’Mara, who studies technology history at the University of Washington. “Its founders never imagined it would have such political and news-industry significance as it does now.”
Facebook Whistleblower: Zatko must earn the public’s trust
Unlike Haugen a year ago, Zatko is somewhat familiar with Congress and the ways of Washington.
In 1998, when most people were surfing the Internet using Netscape or Mosaic, Zatko told a congressional committee that hackers could be an asset to the feds. He was famous for bragging that he could break the internet in 30 minutes.
Douglas Graham/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Zatko’s career has developed and matured along with commercial internet. He worked for DARPA, the Defense Department’s secret deep research unit, and founded a consulting firm before being hired by Twitter in November 2020 to bolster its security after young hackers seized dozens of high-profile accounts, including Elon Musk’s.
“Of the other top people I know who have gone to work at Twitter in the security space, a huge portion of them go because they really care about public safety,” Haugen said, adding that many other tech companies are paying more. “You go there because you see Twitter as an important part of the global communications infrastructure and you want to give back.”
But Zatko says that when he raised security concerns at Twitter, senior executives, including the new CEO, Parag Agrawal, ignored them.
Haugen says she never intended to offer up her criticism of Facebook. She thought the set of internal documents she collected and leaked to her The Wall Street Journal It will stand on its own. But when she testified, Haugen said, “the audience had to call my name with a face.” “whether [Zatko’s] The disclosures will have an impact that will depend on public confidence in them.”
Unlike Haugen, Zatko has provided far fewer internal documents to support his claims. And given the timing – in the midst of a legal battle between Twitter and Musk – people may be more skeptical of his motives.
Trump says the public and policy makers should rely on people like Zatko and Hogan to highlight social media companies, which she calls “black boxes.”
“We particularly lack transparency about the overall impact these people have on users. So right now, we’re in a place where we rely heavily on individual whistleblowers to peek inside the black box. And that’s really problematic.”
What to watch at the hearing and beyond
No Wexler, a communications consultant who previously worked for technology companies, including Twitter, and on Capitol Hill, expects senators to ask about the Indian government agents allegedly hired at Twitter and how Twitter protects sensitive information about American citizens.
But he doubts lawmakers have a real motive to act.
“We’ve seen time and time again, no matter who’s whistling, no matter the particular disagreement, our representatives have been ready for a while, proposing a number of legislation, yet not much of it has come in yet,” he said. “Maybe in that case, we’ll see more, because there are foreign intelligence and security matters involved.”
However, he doubts the hearing will make much sense.
“The hearing will move into a political battle over bias and censorship, as every other congressional hearing does,” Wexler said. Because of free speech issues, “Congress is limited in what they can actually do about online content. And so they kind of stop, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome for Twitter here.”
Zatko filed his complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice. The The Securities and Exchange Commission is already questioning Twitter About how fake or bot accounts are counted on its platform.
The FTC is likely to take action, too, said Rebecca Trumble, a professor at George Washington University who studies social media.
“We are seeing, even in just the last few months, really strong signals from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that they are willing, willing and able to step into the void to take a more assertive position with the social media companies.” She said.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already fined Twitter $150 million for misusing users’ email addresses and phone numbers for marketing purposes in violation of the 2011 consent decree.
Trump says senators and their staff are now better informed about tech policy and industry challenges. She expects complex and subtle questions from senators.
“I think we can expect much more intelligent and in-depth questions than we saw in some of the hearings that were held maybe three, four, five years ago when [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg And the [then-Twitter CEO] Trumble, whose research has been funded by Twitter in the past, said:
Twitter lawsuit against Elon Musk overshadows Senate hearing
Meanwhile, Twitter’s lawsuit against the world’s richest person is accelerating toward a trial date of October 17.
Musk used Zatko’s allegations to bolster his defense, which had previously focused on how Twitter accounted for the wrong accounts on the platform. (Many experts in corporate law say this is a flabby argument.)
Last week, Delaware Judge Chancery Kathleen St. Jude McCormick allowed Musk to amend his counterclaim to include Zatko’s allegations.
If you’re waiting for exciting details about Twitter’s inner workings, Wexler said, “the Musk case is far more important than the Senate hearing.” “This is the main event.”
“Extreme travel lover. Bacon fanatic. Troublemaker. Introvert. Passionate music fanatic.”