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Twitter could face billions in fines over not protecting minors from porn: ex-FTC officials

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Twitter has reportedly didn’t adequately police underage pornography across its social network — a large number posing the danger of a federal investigation that might cost the corporate billions of dollars in fines, The Post has learned.

The embattled social media site — which is in the midst of a court battle with Elon Musk to implement an agreement to sell him the corporate for $44 billion — can have broken a so-called consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission when the corporate reportedly present in an internal study this yr that it doesn’t adequately stop underage users from viewing and uploading porn, two former FTC officials told The Post.

Specifically, Twitter executives reportedly present in an internal study the corporate lacked adequate controls to stop underage users from each accessing and uploading pornography, in response to an Aug. 30 story within the Verge, which cited an internal Twitter team’s findings. Unlike other major social media corporations, Twitter allows porn on its site.

The inner researchers reportedly said the positioning is also unable to consistently detect banned content corresponding to child porn, revenge porn and non-consensual “upskirt” photos once it’s uploaded to the positioning. 

“Twitter cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale,” the researchers wrote in April, in response to the Verge.

While regulators haven’t publicly reacted to the report so far, Twitter’s failures could run afoul of its commitments under a consent decree signed in 2011, which requires that Twitter “shall not misrepresent” the extent to which it protects the safety and privacy of users, former FTC officials said. The alleged problems with porn moderation could qualify as undisclosed user privacy and security problems, in response to the officials.

Twitter is liable to a Federal Trade Commission probe and effective over its alleged porn problem, ex-FTC officials say. AFP via Getty Images

Spokespeople for Twitter and Musk declined to comment. The FTC didn’t reply to a request for comment.

In response to the Verge story, Twitter said that it has “zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation.”

“We aggressively fight online child sexual abuse and have invested significantly in technology and tools to implement our policy” the corporate added. “Our dedicated teams work to remain ahead of bad-faith actors and to assist ensure we’re protecting minors from harm — each on and offline.”

‘No hesitation’

In an exclusive interview with The Post, former FTC Chairman William Kovacic called for the FTC, which he noted has a mission to guard consumers, to right away investigate the allegations. He said Twitter could possibly be hit with a effective within the range of $5 billion whether it is found to have violated the consent decree by failing to guard underage users.

Twitter is subject to a FTC consent decree until 2031. Bloomberg via Getty Images

“There must be no hesitation,” Kovacic said of a possible FTC investigation.

Kovacic was considered one of five FTC commissioners who inked the 2011 consent decree — which followed a pair of major hacks that the FTC blamed on “serious lapses in the corporate’s data security” — requiring Twitter to not mislead consumers about safety and privacy. It stays in effect until 2031.

One other former FTC official, who asked to not be named, also told The Post that Twitter’s alleged underage porn problem should immediately be probed by the agency, which is currently led by anti-Big Tech hardliner Lina Khan. 

Underage users’ access to porn had been a priority for the FTC when it drafted the 2011 consent decree, but it surely appears the corporate hasn’t done enough to live as much as its commitments, the ex-FTC official said.

If Twitter can’t “control” which users view or upload porn, the ex-FTC official added, “then it’s reasonable to conclude that they might be in violation of the 2011 prohibition to not misrepresent security and privacy of users.” 

Kovacic said the FTC fines an organization based partly on how long it hasn’t complied with a consent decree. If the agency determines that Twitter has been out of compliance for greater than 10 years, he said the effective could possibly be within the $5 billion range — roughly equal to Twitter’s entire 2021 revenue. 

“There must be no hesitation,” former FTC Chair William Kovacic said of a possible FTC investigation into Twitter’s alleged porn problem. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

Implications for Musk

Twitter found the alleged problems with age verification while it considered a plan this spring to spice up revenue by launching an OnlyFans-style feature that will allow Twitter users to sell dirty photos and videos, the Verge reported.

Twitter reportedly assigned a team of 84 employees to pressure-test the concept. The team allegedly found that Twitter already lacks the power to consistently stop underage users from viewing or uploading porn — and that the issue could be made worse by letting users charge for porn. 

After the researchers presented their findings, the corporate reportedly shelved the project because it focused on the messy takeover battle with Musk.

Now, a source near the court battle said Musk’s legal team is predicted to attempt to seize on a possible FTC probe and effective as a part of his effort to terminate his $44 billion takeover deal.

Along with the porn issue, Twitter’s former head of security, the famed hacker Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, recently filed an explosive whistleblower criticism alleging Twitter is a risk to national security — allegations that are expected to prompt investigations by the FTC and other US agencies.

Nevertheless, two university law professors told The Post the porn allegations are unlikely to make a big difference within the court trial. The FTC typically takes 4 to 6 months to analyze violations and levy fines, Kovacic said. The trial, meanwhile, is slated to kick off Oct. 17.

Elon MuskElon Musk’s legal team is predicted attempt to seize on a possible FTC probe as a part of his effort to terminate his $44 billion takeover deal. NTB/AFP via Getty Images

The chance that Twitter violated the FTC consent decree just isn’t enough to assist Musk since the language within the merger agreement requires a far higher standard, University of Iowa corporate finance and law chair Robert Miller said.

“The judge must know when the FTC intends to act and what it intends to do to think about it within the case,” added Boston College Professor Brian Quinn, who’s an authority on mergers and acquisitions. Unless the FTC were to conduct an investigation way more quickly than normal, it’s unlikely the judge would have such information by the point the trial opens.

And even when Musk’s team can show an FTC effective is probably going, the penalty would should be massive enough to have a fabric hostile effect on Twitter, which normally means it will have to cut back its value by about 20%, Miller said. 

TwitterTwitter desires to force Elon Musk to undergo with the $44 billion takeover deal. NurPhoto via Getty Images

“A one-time effective, even an enormous one, doesn’t reduce the earnings enough,” Miller said.

As an alternative of helping Musk scrap his Twitter takeover, the underage porn allegations could ultimately hurt him. If Delaware courts force him to undergo with the deal, any FTC effective levied after the takeover would likely be his problem. 

Whistleblower comments

Zatko, the whistleblower, was asked in regards to the child porn allegations during his lengthy Congressional testimony on Tuesday.

“There have been discussions about age-related information and the discussions internally I heard were concerns about lack of tools to appropriately regulate or constrain [underage content],” Zatko said in response to an issue from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) about Twitter’s porn plans. 

Peiter ZatkoTwitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko said “I heard were concerns about lack of tools to appropriately regulate or constrain [underage content].” The Washington Post via Getty Im

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Zatko that an internal Twitter team found that they had an excessive amount of child and nonconsensual pornography that was on the positioning — an apparent reference to the Verge report. Zatko responded that he was not aware of any such team but “unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me.” 

The whistleblower added that he didn’t work on porn at Twitter but knew that a few of the site’s advertisers had raised concerns about their ads appearing next to adult content. 

Zatko alleged repeatedly that Twitter has misled the FTC about its compliance with the 2011 consent decree by violating user privacy outside of the context of pornography. He called for the antitrust regulator to take a stronger stance against Twitter and other tech firms. 

“I think the FTC is in a bit over their head, in comparison with the scale of the Big Tech corporations,” he said. “They’re left letting corporations grade their very own homework.” 

In response to Zatko’s testimony, Twitter said: “Today’s hearing only confirms that Mr. Zatko’s allegations are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies.”

Twitter agreed in May to pay the FTC a $150 million effective for breaking the consent decree after regulators accused the corporate of collecting phone numbers and emails for security purposes after which unintentionally shared that data with advertisers. 

The corporate said on the time that “some email addresses and phone numbers provided for account security purposes can have been inadvertently used for promoting” and pledged to “proceed to partner with the FTC.”

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