As the U.S. antitrust agency Federal Trade Commission (FTC) intensifies its investigation into Twitter’s privacy and data practices, Twitter boss Elon Musk tried to intervene personally, seeking direct access to the commission’s chairwoman Lina Khan, but was rebuffed, documents show.
FTC Chairman Lina Khan
Elon Musk requested a meeting with Lina Khan last year, but was denied, people familiar with the matter said. In a Jan. 27 letter declining to meet, Lina Khan told Twitter lawyers that Twitter wanted to focus on satisfying investigators’ requests for information before she would consider meeting with FTC Chairman Lina Khan.
Musk spoke with Christine Wilson, the FTC’s only Republican commissioner, last month, according to an email exchange between FTC staffers and information from two people familiar with the matter. Wilson plans to leave the agency on Friday, which she said was motivated by concerns about Lina Khan’s leadership.
Musk’s reaching out to the FTC is a sign of the seriousness of the agency’s investigation into Twitter. The investigation stems from a 2011 settlement between Twitter and the FTC over privacy issues, which required the company to maintain a user privacy program. Last May, Twitter paid a $150 million fine for allegedly violating the settlement. At the same time, the FTC expanded the terms of the agreement to prohibit Twitter from using certain data to serve targeted ads and to require it to provide certain security features.
The investigation now focuses on whether Twitter has enough resources to protect the privacy of its users after Musk bought the social media company last year and then fired thousands of employees. The FTC had sought to interview Musk separately about the investigation, but was unsuccessful, people familiar with the matter said.
In the past, it was rare for corporate CEOs to try to meet with the FTC chairman and the commission while the investigation was ongoing. But sometimes such meetings have taken place when executives hoped to convince senior officials at the agency that they were determined to keep their commitments to the FTC. “If you think you can ignore it, that it’s not a very worthwhile concern, you ignore it,” said former FTC Chairman William Kovacic, “and if you think it’s important, that’s a reason to seek a meeting. “
Musk, Wilson and an FTC spokesman had no comment.