By Alice Seeley
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made public court documents charging Twitter with violating a 2011 agreement with regulators not to use information gathered for security purposes, such as users’ phone numbers and email addresses, to help advertisers target people with ads.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Twitter began enforcing a requirement for users to provide their phone numbers and email addresses for account security purposes in May 2013. The company failed to disclose that it also provided that information to advertisers. Advertisers used users’ phone numbers and emails with the information they already had or bought from data brokers to target specific individuals with ads.
“Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chair Lina Khan stated. “This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”
In addition, the social media company is being charged with failing to comply with U.S. privacy agreements with the European Union and Switzerland, which prohibit companies from processing user information in ways that are at odds with purposes authorized by users.
To settle these charges, Twitter will pay a $150 million fine and will be required to give users other means to verify their accounts that do not involve phone numbers. The company will also have to limit access to users’ data and notify the FTC if it experiences a data breach. The $150 million penalty and the required new compliance measures under the settlement must be approved by a federal court in California.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the privacy of consumers’ sensitive data,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The $150 million penalty reflects the seriousness of the allegations against Twitter, and the substantial new compliance measures to be imposed as a result of today’s proposed settlement will help prevent further misleading tactics that threaten users’ privacy.”