Elon Musk lawyers file Twitter whistleblower complaint in court


Elon Musk’s attorneys brought new whistleblower allegations to court on Wednesday as extra ammunition in their long-running case to walk away from buying social media giant Twitter.

The explosive whistleblower complaint became a talking point for Musk’s lawyers during the grueling hour-and-a-half hearing, which was scheduled for the lawyers to request more information about Twitter’s data on spam and bots – the main point in Musk’s claim that he misled and can therefore withdraw. out of the deal. The complaint, which was obtained by The Washington Post and cited by Musk’s lawyers, alleges glaring security flaws and ineffective bot counting methods at the social media giant.

For Musk’s lawyers, it was the opening salvo in a strategy expected to draw more heavily on the claims of whistleblower Peiter Zatko, the former head of Twitter’s security.

Former head of security claims Twitter buried ‘serious flaws’

“Mr. Zatko, who was responsible for much of this — including processing and removing various spam bots — was not a low-level employee,” Musk’s attorney Alex Spiro said. “He was one of the best officers in the company.”

“As Mr. Zatko put it, management didn’t feel like measuring bot accounts properly,” he said.

Twitter’s lawyers, on the other hand, held back on the data requests, citing the sensitivity of the information.

In the 84-page complaint, Zatko alleges that Twitter lied to Musk about bots and spam accounts, and that the site had glaring security flaws that cast doubt on the validity of its statements to federal regulators — and possibly Musk.

“Twitter executives have little or no personal incentive to accurately ‘detect’ or measure the prevalence of spam bots,” the complaint claimed, adding that “deliberate ignorance was the norm.”

Zatko’s complaint also alleged that Twitter was cheating regulators regarding its protections against cybersecurity threats, a claim that would potentially support Musk’s accusation that Twitter was false in reports to shareholders.

Still, there was little hard documentation to back up his claims about spam and bots, and he left the company months before Musk decided to take over Twitter.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, agreed to buy Twitter in April for $44 billion, during a period when he publicly proclaimed the need for free speech on social networks. However, Musk tweeted in May that the deal was on hold pending a review of Twitter’s claims of spam and fake accounts. The turnaround coincided with a drop in Tesla’s stock price and economic pressure on technology stocks that slashed Musk’s net worth and raised questions about his ability to fund the deal.

In July, Musk filed to end the deal over concerns related to Twitter’s count of bot and spam profiles, which Musk claims is vastly underestimating the true number of inauthentic accounts. Twitter sued Musk days later for breach of contract. Musk filed a counterclaim at the end of July.

New whistleblower allegations could play a role in Twitter-Musk lawsuit

Wednesday’s hearing, in Delaware Chancery Court, dealt with Musk’s team’s ability to request information about Twitter’s internal practices and data. The judge previously ruled against Musk’s team when it sought to collect information from more than 20 company leaders. One of those leaders that Musk’s team had asked for information was Zatko. But the judge rejected the request, raising the possibility that Musk’s side will use the new disclosures to reconsider the request.

Twitter has previously disputed the whistleblower’s and Musk’s characterizations regarding spam and bots. Several leading artificial intelligence experts have publicly supported Twitter’s methodology for its spam and bot calculations.

Twitter attorney Bradley Wilson argued in court on Wednesday that the number of spam was only an estimate, supported by legal disclosures highlighting the inaccurate nature of the count.

Twitter sues Elon Musk and creates epic legal battle

“We have an inherently subjective assessment,” Wilson said. “Twitter made an estimate and it was very candid that it did.”

He also noted that some of the Musk team’s requests “explicitly search for private information” that the company did not want to give away, including users’ IP addresses, phone numbers, and information about users’ locations.

The hearing opened Wednesday with Spiro arguing that Twitter flip-flopped on his rationale for not offering Musk’s team data, data he believes is important in understanding what’s really going on at the social media company.

“There’s this back and forth, and every time the goalposts seem to move,” Spiro claimed, citing requests for more data related to spam and bots.

“We are the potential buyer here and we don’t even know what exists,” Spiro said of the data he claimed was blocking Twitter. “It puts us at a big disadvantage.”

He also claimed Twitter has been cheating on its user numbers for a long time. He argued that Twitter’s growth has been leveling off for years and that the company was changing the way it calculated its user numbers in 2019 to give the appearance of more growth. Spiro said this underlying deception is one reason why the judge should uphold their claims for more data.

Twitter has said it invented the new way to calculate growth in 2019 to give investors a clearer picture of the company’s status.

Lawmakers Investigate Whistleblower Accusations From Twitter Security Chief

Spiro raised allegations from Zatko’s complaint, claiming that Twitter had shut down a major bot-fighting tool, internally called ROPO, to “read-only phone,” which blocks an account from tweeting until a user can prove it. it is linked to a real person. He claimed that a senior executive was planning to shut it down completely (Zatko’s claim says the executive tried to shut it down, but Spiro seemed to go further).

The Post previously reported that ROPO was never shut down and that the management proposed an overhaul, not a closure.

Meanwhile, Wilson argued against handing over private data to Musk’s team, citing concerns about user privacy and fears if such information “falls into the wrong hands.”

He specifically pointed to Musk’s own statement as evidence that Twitter was at risk if it shared more data. Twitter could lose control of the data and individuals with anonymous accounts could be exposed, he argued, as well as private messages made public.

“This is someone who publicly mocks Twitter. Who has suggested that this lawsuit would be used as a means of disclosing Twitter’s internal data. And who has recently and publicly confirmed that if he is able to get under the contract he has signed, his plan is to start a competing company,” Wilson added.

The judge adjourned the hearing without making a decision.

The trial is scheduled for October.

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