In June, just days before former hacker and ex-Twitter security chief Peiter Zatko filed a whistleblower complaint that will be used by Elon Musk in his ongoing war with the social media giant, Twitter agreed to pay Zatko $7 million in lost wages, according to people familiar with the matter.
Zatko was fired from Twitter in January and in the months that followed, he and the coveted platform haggled over tens of millions of potentially lost dollars, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s unnamed sources.
Twitter reached a $7 million settlement in June with the whistleblower whose claims will be part of Elon Musk’s countersuit, people familiar with the matter said https://t.co/0WSfOZ3sw6
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) September 8, 2022
While such negotiations are common when an exec unexpectedly leaves a company, Zatko turned around and filed his whistleblower complaint, in which, among other claims, he accuses Twitter execs, including Chief Executive Parag Agrawal, of intentionally undercounting spam accounts.
According to the filing, which Zatko sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the security head had “uncovered extreme, egregious deficiencies by Twitter in every area of his mandate.”
Those areas include “privacy, digital and physical security, platform integrity and content moderation,” the Journal reported.
Zatko signed a nondisclosure agreement with Twitter as part of his settlement agreement and is forbidden from publicly slamming the company or dishing about his time spent there, according to the Journal’s sources, but Congressional hearings and governmental whistleblower complaints are exempt from the gag order, and Zatko is availing himself of both options.
On Tuesday, he will go before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss what he claims are Twitter’s security failures. That same day, Twitter shareholders will vote on billionaire Elon Musk’s bid to take over the company.
While Twitter blamed Zatko’s “ineffective leadership and poor performance” for the reasons behind his termination, his whistleblower complaint — which Twitter argues “is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context” — speaks directly to Musk’s allegations that Twitter is less than honest about the number of bots on the platform.
Less than 5% of Twitter daily users are fake/spam
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 6, 2022
After Musk attempted to renege on his offer to buy the company, Twitter launched its own lawsuit with the intent of forcing the quirky Tesla founder to follow through.
Musk promptly countersued, and on Wednesday, a judge ruled that Zatko’s complaint can be incorporated into Musk’s countersuit against Twitter. The nonjury trial, to be held in Delaware Chancery Court, is set to begin on October 17 and is expected to last five days.
That is not to say that Zatko is working with Musk to take Twitter down.
Whistleblower Aid founder John Tye, whose organization helped Zatko to file his complaint, maintains that Zatko and Musk have never spoken, and the two legal teams have never been in contact.
Still, Zatko’s claims only lend credence to Musk’s allegations.
Alexis Ronickher of Katz Banks Kumin is one of the lawyers representing Zatko. In a written statement, he praised Zatko’s decision to come forward.
“Mr. Zatko could have stayed silent about what he saw at Twitter to protect his career and family,” he said. “Instead, he came forward with his whistleblower disclosures to ensure that the government has the information it needs to protect Twitter’s users, investors, and the country.”
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