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Twitter misled users and US regulators about “extreme, egregious” gaps in its online protections, the platform’s ex-security chief claimed in whistleblower testimony that could impact the court fight over Elon Musk’s buyout bid.
Peiter Zatko’s complaint, which was published Tuesday by US media, also accused Twitter of significantly underestimating the number of fake and spam accounts — a crucial point in Musk’s argument for trying to cancel his $44 billion deal to own the platform.
The ex-worker, who Twitter says was fired for poor performance, warns of obsolete servers, software vulnerable to computer attacks and executives seeking to hide the number of hacking attempts, both from US authorities and from the company’s board of directors.
In particular, Zatko accuses the platform and its CEO Parag Agrawal of issuing untrue statements on account numbers because “if accurate measurements ever became public, it would harm the image and valuation of the company.”
Twitter fired back at its former worker, saying Zatko was fired in January for “ineffective leadership and poor performance.”
The “opportunistic timing” of the allegations appears “designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders,” the statement continued.
Zatko’s legal team called the characterizations of his work and departure from Twitter as “false”, noting he was fired after clashing with the new CEO Agrawal.
The issue of fake accounts is at the heart of the legal battle between Twitter and Tesla chief Musk.
Musk is relying on the bot argument to justify abandoning his buyout deal and avoid paying severance, but Twitter’s lawsuit has asserted that it’s too late because the parties already have an agreement.
“We have already issued a subpoena for Mr. Zatko, and we found his exit and that of other key employees curious in light of what we have been finding,” Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro told AFP.
Zatko was hired in late 2020 by the founder and former boss of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, after a massive hack that saw the accounts of major users including Joe Biden, Barack Obama, reality star Kim Kardashian and Musk himself compromised.
US lawmakers immediately raised concerns about the allegations in Zatko’s filing and have pledged to look into them.
Originally published as Whistleblower accuses Twitter of hiding major flaws