On August 29, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, subpoenaed Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko. According to a Reuters article that cites the court filing, Musk is requesting “documents and communications on the company’s spam and alleged security vulnerabilities.”
Zatko, also known as “Mudge,” worked as Twitter’s head of security from November 2020 to January 2022. In July 2022, he filed whistleblower complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that there were “extreme, egregious deficiencies” in the platform’s cybersecurity defenses. Zatko alleged, among other things, that there was an “ineffective method for counting bots” on Twitter, according to an article from The Washington Post.
The issue of bot accounts has been contentious in Musk’s initial deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and then subsequent backing out of the deal. According to the Post article, Musk tweeted in May that the deal to buy Twitter “was on hold pending a review of Twitter’s claims on spam and fake accounts…By July, Musk filed to terminate the deal over concerns relating to Twitter’s tallying of bot and spam profiles, which Musk alleges vastly underestimates the true number of inauthentic accounts. Twitter sued Musk alleging breach of contract days later. Musk filed a countersuit in late July.”
After Zatko’s whistleblower disclosures were first reported by the Post and CNN, Musk’s lawyers cited the allegations in an August 24 hearing. It is expected Zatko’s whistleblower complaints will play a role in the ongoing lawsuits involving Musk and Twitter: in fact, Musk sent “an additional letter of deal termination” to Twitter that includes Zatko’s complaint, according to an August 30 Reuters article.
Reuters reports that Musk is seeking information from Zatko “mostly about the way Twitter measures spam accounts,” but is also seeking “documents and communications about alleged attempts to hide security weaknesses, compliance with a 2011 Federal Trade Commission agreement and ‘Twitter’s engagement in any unlawful activity,’” the August 29 article states.
A five-day trial will take place on October 17, the Reuters article states. “Musk wants out of the deal and Twitter is asking Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery to order him to buy the company for the agreed $54.20 per share,” according to the article.