Elon Musk tried to meet FTC chairman over Twitter, but was rejected

Elon Musk attempted to reach out to the Federal Trade Commission after the agency intensified its investigation into Twitter’s privacy and data practices, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, in a sign of the billionaire’s hands-off approach to the investigation.

Mister. Musk, who owns Twitter, asked to meet with FTC chairwoman Leena Khan but was turned down, according to the documents. Mr. Musk made the effort late last year, said a person with knowledge of the matter. Denying the meeting in a January 27 letter, Ms Khan asked a Twitter lawyer to focus on meeting investigators’ information demands before considering meeting with Mr Musk.

Mister. Musk spoke with Christine Wilson, the FTC’s lone Republican commissioner, last month, according to an email between agency officials and two people with knowledge of the matter. Ms. Wilson plans to leave the agency on Friday over her concerns over Ms. Khan’s leadership.

Mister. Musk’s contact with the FTC highlights the seriousness of the agency’s investigation into Twitter. The investigation focuses on whether the social media company had enough resources to protect the privacy of its users after Musk bought it last year and subsequently laid off thousands of employees. The agency has separately attempted to interview Mr. oysters to probe; The interview did not take place, said a person in the know.

It is rare for a corporate CEO to attempt to meet with the chairman and commissioners of the FTC while an investigation is ongoing. But such meetings sometimes happen when officials hope to convince the agency’s top brass that they are committed to keeping their promises to the FTC.

Former FTC Chairman William Kovacic said, “If you think you can brush it aside, and it’s not a big concern, you better ignore it.” “If it’s important to you, that’s a reason to get a date.”

Mister. Musk, Ms. Wilson and an FTC spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. A press request sent to Twitter triggered an auto-reply email featuring a poop emoji.

The agency’s investigation is rooted in Twitter’s settlement with the FTC in 2011 over privacy issues, which requires the company to maintain a user privacy program. Last May, Twitter paid a $150 million fine for alleged violations of that agreement; At the same time, the FTC expanded the terms of the settlement to prohibit Twitter from using certain data to target ads and required it to provide specific security features.

Twitter’s former security chief, Peter Zatko, said in a whistleblower complaint made public in August that the company failed to comply with the terms of a 2011 settlement. October saw further mass layoffs, which were compounded by the dismissal of privacy and compliance executives.

After Sh. Musk requested a meeting with Ms. According to emails sent to agency staff describing the situation, Khan consulted with the Enforcement Division within the FTC’s Consumer Protection Agency, which led the Twitter investigation. M / s. Khan acted on the advice of the enforcement team and declined to meet Mr Khan. Kasturi at that time.

In Ms. Khan’s letter on Twitter dated Jan. On the 27th, he noted that the company was under investigation and had dragged its heels in providing documents to the FTC, delaying statements with witnesses, including Mr. Musk. She said she was “troubled by Twitter’s delays and that these delays hinder the FTC’s investigation.”

“I recommend that Twitter properly prioritize its legal obligations to provide the requested information,” she wrote. “Once Twitter is fully compliant with all FTC requests, I would be happy to consider scheduling a meeting with Mr. Musk.

E-mail discussion among agency staff Mr. Kasturi’s relief effort indicated that she had spoken with Ms. Wilson, the Republican commissar. The email said that during the call they met with FTC official James A. Cobham, who investigates whether companies are following their confidentiality arrangements with the agency.

Mr Cobham did not respond to an email seeking comment.

M / s. An employee said in the email that Wilson requested copies of the agency’s letters to Twitter requesting information and documents related to privacy compliance.

In February, Ms. Wilson said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that she would resign from the agency, citing Ms. Khan’s “contempt for the rule of law and due process and the manner in which senior FTC officials empower him.” Two people said conversations with Mr. Musk occurred after the op-ed was published.

Mister. Musk has forged ties with Republicans, who have welcomed his vision for a Twitter free of policies that limit what can be said on the platform. Earlier this year, he met with Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and leader of a subcommittee of the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee aimed at “arming” the federal government.

This month, that subcommittee released a report on the FTC’s investigation into Twitter, accusing the agency of “conducting an aggressive campaign to harass Twitter.”

David Vladeck, a former director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau who served during the Obama administration, said talking to a commissioner who isn’t the president was “not a smart strategy” for Mr. Musk, and that negotiations with the bureau’s only Republican, “could sound like politics.”

Mister. Kasturi first met with the members of the FTC, Mr. Kovacic said. After a group of aerospace companies announced a planned joint venture to challenge SpaceX, Mr. Musk’s rocket company, he met with FTC commissioners including Mr. Kovacic, in 2006 to raise competition concerns.

Mister. Vladek said the FTC could eventually penalize Twitter again for privacy violations, possibly more than the latest $150 million fine.

With the FTC investigation intensifying, Mr. Musk went on to change some features of the Twitter platform. He plans to remove the verification check mark, the main way the social network confirms a user’s identity, including celebrities and others, if they don’t sign up for Twitter Blue, an $8-per-month subscription service. If you do on Saturday … monthly cost.

Twitter also plans to charge organizations $1,000 a month for verification, but will make exceptions for the top 500 advertisers and 10,000 most-followed organizations, according to an internal document seen by The Times. According to the document, all accounts that buy ticks are reviewed to make sure they are not impersonating anyone.

Ryan Mack Contributed reporting. kitty bennett Contributed to research.

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