Elon Musk and the U.S. Department of Justice

Dan Nicholson

The recent whirlwind of events surrounding Elon Musk's leadership of "X," the social network formerly known as Twitter, has sparked considerable attention. Revelations about potential breaches of a Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) order have been spotlighted in recent court filings, painting a controversial portrait of Musk's approach to leadership.

Twitter and the 2011 FTC Order

It's important to first understand the foundation of the controversy. The origins trace back to a 2011 agreement between Twitter and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in which the FTC mandated stricter security measures following multiple data breaches at Twitter. The 2022 Administrative Order – a more recent agreement, built upon the 2011 order – fined Twitter a substantial $150 million. This was due to the company's misrepresentation of user data usage, claiming security purposes while monetizing the data for advertising.

This order is especially stringent, requiring comprehensive privacy and data security systems to be maintained, including the assessment of privacy and security risks associated with new products. Notably, the order also forbids making a profit from data collected through deceptive means and restricts internal access to user data.

Concerns with Musk's Leadership at X

Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter and subsequent rebranding to "X" has been characterized by the DOJ as fostering a "chaotic environment." Key highlights from the filings include:

Granular Control and Data Privacy: Multiple former employees, as cited by both the Washington Post and Mashable, highlighted Musk's overreach, which sometimes put data privacy and security at risk. Notable among these actions was the controversial move to leak internal company documents to outside parties.

Relocation of Data Centers: Musk's decision to abruptly move Twitter's data centers without adhering to standard protocols caused alarm. The company typically wipes data from servers before a transfer, but the urgency of the relocation prevented such measures.

Twitter Blue Launch: The introduction of the revamped Twitter Blue, which essentially allowed users to buy the coveted blue checkmark, raised eyebrows. The launch went ahead despite known issues concerning user impersonations.

Drastic Staff Reductions: Musk's extensive layoffs, amounting to about 80% of the staff, significantly impacted the company's ability to ensure and monitor compliance with its data security commitments.

Implications and Repercussions

The significance of the FTC's orders cannot be understated. Similar to the landmark case against Facebook in 2019, the FTC uses such orders as primary tools to hold tech giants accountable for privacy breaches. This probe offers a unique glimpse into the decision-making processes and leadership style of Musk at X, who has been both criticized and lauded for his radical approaches.

The revelations in the DOJ's filings come at a pivotal time when X is seeking a dismissal of the FTC consent agreement. If the motion is denied and the company found in violation, the consequences could be profound, possibly resulting in severe fines or operational stipulations.

Musk's alleged assurance that he's the "single person responsible" and that liability lies with him might indeed come to a head if the DOJ's allegations hold weight.



Washington Post

Dan Nicholson is the author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms,” deemed a best-seller by USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to founding the award-winning accounting and financial consulting firm Nth Degree CPAs, Dan has created and run multiple small businesses, including Certainty U and the Certified Certainty Advisor program.

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