There is likely to be mayhem in the lawsuit between Elon Musk and Twitter. The richest man in the world has just subpoenaed Peter Zatko, the man at the center of recent revelations on Twitter.
Two scandals come together. In his lawsuit against Twitter, Elon Musk has just summoned a very media-friendly witness: Peter Zatko. A cybersecurity specialist better known by the nickname Mudge, the man recently questioned Twitter’s security policy (which he was in charge of until a few months ago) with the American trade policeman. The list of criticisms is as long as the arm with, according to the whistleblower, breaches of the GDPR, a very lax policy for the management of personal data and inaccuracies on the number of bots present on Twitter.
Key testimony for Elon Musk
It is this last point that particularly interests Elon Musk. Indeed, the South African businessman has made this story of bots his main argument in the case which opposes him to Twitter. Arguing from the start of the case that the microblogging site is filled with automated accounts (which therefore cannot see the ads), Elon Musk maintains that the company is worth much less than it claims. Suffice to say that the recent testimony of Peter Zatko is timely.
In the letter sent to the American authorities (obtained by the wall street journal), Mudge indeed describes a certain laissez-faire approach to the management of bots on Twitter. “Twitter executives have no incentive to detect or report the total number of spam bots on the platform” reads the mail. Having a very precise view of the number of automated accounts would effectively bring down the numbers of the MDAU (for “monetizable daily active user” that is “monetizable daily user“), the metric Twitter uses to attract advertisers.”Bonuses for executives (which can reach 10 million per year) are linked to the MDAU figure“says the letter.
Twitter ‘don’t really know’ how many bots there are
Worse, when Peter Zatko asked the Site Integrity Manager about the number of beaus present on the platform, the response was a simple “We really do not know“. The reasons given are not such as to reassure, first explaining that the company “don’t know how to measure this number“, that the teams were constantly overwhelmed by other problems and that the leaders “had no interest in precisely measuring this figure“. Mudge’s testimony even explains that a manager had “knowingly“left this point more or less aside.
During the revelations, the Twitter boss claimed that the anecdotes told by Mudge painted a “fake picture“Twitter’s practices, both in terms of security and bot counting. In the subpoena sent to Peter Zatko, Elon Musk’s legal team asks for access to any documents”referring to the impact or effect of fake accounts on Twitter’s business and operations” as well as any other document related to the “flagrant failings” in terms of platform security.
Peter Zatko should therefore be questioned on September 9 and the testimony of the former employee could well make noise.