Twitter to Pay $150 Million Fine in Data Privacy Settlement

Image: Akshar Dave via Unsplash
The US Dept of Justice and FTC levied the fine for violating a 2011 0rder to cease profiting from deceptively collected data.

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine after the US government accused the social media company of illegally selling advertisements based on improper use of personal data over a six-year period.

According to court documents made public Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice charged Twitter with violating a 2011 agreement with regulators in which the company said it would not use information gathered for security purposes to help advertisers target people with ads, including user phone numbers and email addresses.

The FTC said that millions of Twitter users provided their phone numbers or email addresses from 2014 to 2019 after the company told them the information would solely be used to help secure their accounts.


Twitter used the phone numbers and email addresses for targeted ads, allowing advertisers to reach consumers by matching the information with current data Twitter had or had obtained from data brokers.

“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 M. Khan.

“This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”


‘Inadvertently Used’

A blog post from Twitter’s Chief Privacy Officer, Damien Kieran said that “email addresses and phone numbers provided for account security purposes may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

He went on to add that “Keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

As to the amount of the fine, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said “the $150 million penalty reflects the seriousness of the allegations against Twitter, and the substantial new compliance measures to be imposed as a result of today’s proposed settlement will help prevent further misleading tactics that threaten users’ privacy.”