X staff ignored Elon Musk’s orders (and averted a major crisis)

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Elon Musk's Twitter Takeover: Revenge or Free Speech Crusade?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that X owner Elon Musk gave his staff instructions that violated the privacy and security decree. It turns out that the only reason the platform adhered to FTC rules was because its staff did not obey Musk.

In an open letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of the US House of Representatives, FTC Chair Lina Khan shared the results of the investigation into Musk’s acquisition of  X in 2022.

The platform and the FTC have a long-term agreement, dated 2011, on a ‘comprehensive privacy and information security program’. This includes protecting users’ personal data and limiting employee access to it.

Shortly after Musk took over, however, he instructed Twitter/X employees to ‘give a few outside writers full access to the company’s internal documents and systems’. According to the Washington Post, Musk wanted at least one of his hand-picked writers to have access to everything on Twitter ‘without limitation’.

Musk’s decision to give third parties such unfettered access to the company’s data raised alarm among Twitter/X’s employees. Granting such broad access to outside authors would have allowed them to view personal information about Twitter/X users, such as their direct messages, real names, and phone numbers, and would have violated the FTC’s rule that such data be carefully protected. Twitter/X’s staff therefore decided to ‘ignore’ Musk’s instruction.

“The company’s information security employees intervened and took precautions due to the risk of disclosing non-public user information. Third parties were unable to gain direct access to Twitter’s systems,” Khan wrote.

Yes, as a result, Twitter/X employees went against Musk’s directive and did not give the authors unrestricted access to the company’s systems and data. If the employees had followed Musk’s orders, Twitter/X would probably be facing some heavy sanctions right now.

The social media platform was previously fined $150 million in May 2022 for using users’ personal information to sell ads in violation of an FTC settlement.

Given Twitter/X’s dramatic drop in value and its efforts to create revenue streams to replace its fleeing advertisers, that’s a lot of money the company probably doesn’t want to lose.

Musk began dramatically reducing Twitter/X’s workforce as soon as he took over the company, laying off nearly 80 percent of the staff less than five months later.

“Simply put, there is no one left at the company responsible for protecting personal data, reviewing and organizing data policies to ensure compliance with FTC orders,” Khan said.

Last July, Twitter/X filed for revocation in an attempt to avoid the privacy and security obligations that the FTC had imposed on the company. Fortunately for all those who advocate for holding companies accountable for what they do with our data, this attempt failed.


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