Twitter has agreed to pay $150 million after it was accused of having sold private information from users to target advertising, without having informed them.
The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the settlement that, if approved by a federal court, requires Twitter to pay the amount in civil penalties, as well as improve its compliance practices to protect users’ data privacy.
Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, said that in reaching the settlement, the company has paid the $150 million penalty and has also “aligned with the [FTC] on operational updates and program enhancements” to protect user privacy and security.
Kieran said the matter concerns a privacy incident disclosed in 2019 “when some email addresses and phone numbers provided for account security purposes may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”
“This issue was addressed as of September 17, 2019, and today we want to reiterate the work we’ll continue to do to protect the privacy and security of the people who use Twitter,” Kieran said in a statement.
According to a complaint (pdf) filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Twitter was accused of having violated the FTC Act and a 2011 settlement with the FTC by allegedly misrepresenting to its users how it would use their nonpublic contact information.
From at least May 2013 to September 2019, Twitter allegedly “deceptively used personal information collected for specific security-related purposes for advertising,” said the complaint, which was filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the FTC.
“Specifically, while Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” the complaint said.
FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement that the alleged practice “affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”