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Twitter to Pay $150 Million To Settle Privacy Complaint

In this photo illustration, the microblogging social network Twitter logo is displayed on the screen of a smartphone on December 26, 2019 in Paris, France.
(Image credit: Chesnot/Getty Images)

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million civil penalty to settle allegations it violated the law and a 2011 Federal Trade Commission administrative order by "misrepresenting" how it was using Twitter users' nonpublic data, which included targeting ads to those users.

The FTC and Justice filed the complaint and settlement Wednesday (May 25) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition to the money, Twitter agreed to a robust compliance regime to make sure it took the requisite steps to protect user data, according to Justice. 

The complaint alleged that from 2013 to 2019 Twitter said it was collecting user phone numbers and e-mail addresses for security purposes but did not mention it would also use the info to help companies target ads to them.

Also: Twitter Proposes Guidelines for Regulation

The complaint also alleged Twitter falsely claimed it was in compliance with the European Union-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks, which prohibit using nonpublic data for purposes other than those stated.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads," said FTC chair Lina Khan. “This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”

DOJ and the FTC will share enforcement of Twitter's compliance with the settlement, which still must be approved by the court before it goes into effect. ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.