Twitter expects FTC fines of up to $250m for data misuse

4 Aug 2020

Image: © Sundry Photography/

Twitter faces fines of up to $250m after it ‘inadvertently’ used data provided for safety and security purposes for targeted ads.

Twitter has said that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could be fining the social media platform up to $250m.

The fine is related to Twitter’s improper use of phone numbers and email addresses to target advertisements, which the firm owned up to in October 2019. The company admitted that it previously served tailored ads to account holders by “inadvertently” using phone numbers and email addresses that were provided for two-factor authentication purposes.

Last week, the company received a complaint from the FTC alleging that it used data “provided for safety and security purposes for targeted advertising” from 2013 to 2019.

In a 10-Q submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Twitter said that it expects the FTC fines to cost between $150m and $250m. “The matter remains unresolved and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome,” the company added.

Violating the FTC’s 2011 consent order

The FTC’s complaint relates to a consent order from 2011 that required Twitter to establish and maintain a comprehensive security programme and barred the company from misleading its consumers about the extent of its privacy practices.

Last year, the FTC fined Facebook $5bn for its mishandling of user data, after years of investigation. The commission referred to the fine as an “unprecedented penalty” and an “historic victory for American consumers”. Facebook was also subject to new privacy and data security requirements as a result of the case.

The 10-Q submission was on the back of Twitter’s latest earnings report, in which the company reported revenues of $683m for the second quarter of 2020. It also comes just weeks after Twitter was subject to a high-profile hacking incident that compromised accounts of Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and more.

Touching on the incident, the company said in its 10-Q: “This security breach may have harmed the people and accounts affected by it. It may also impact the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures, and people may lose trust and confidence in us, decrease the use of our products and services or stop using our products and services in their entirety.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic