For Musk’s attorneys, it was the opening salvo in a strategy expected to draw more heavily on the claims of whistleblower Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security.
Former head of security claims Twitter buried ‘serious flaws’
“Mr. Zatko, who was responsible for much of this — including processing and removing various spam bots — was not a low level employee,” Musk’s attorney Alex Spiro said. “He was one of the best officers in the company.”
“As Mr. Zatko put it, management didn’t feel like measuring bot accounts properly,” he said.
Twitter’s lawyers, on the other hand, held back on the data requests, citing the sensitivity of the information.
In the 84-page complaint obtained by The Post, Zatko alleges that Twitter lied to Musk about bots and spam accounts, and that the site had glaring security flaws that cast doubt on the validity of its statements to federal regulators — and possibly also to Musk. Still, there was little hard documentation to back up his claims about spam and bots, and he left the company months before Musk decided to take over.
Musk and Twitter’s attorneys appeared in Delaware Chancery Court for a hearing on their pending dispute. Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, announced that he would end his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter in July over concerns related to Twitter’s count of bot and spam profiles, which Musk claims is the true number of non-Twitter. authentic accounts vastly underestimated. Twitter sued Musk days later for breach of contract. Musk filed a counterclaim at the end of July.
New whistleblower allegations could play a role in Twitter-Musk lawsuit
Musk had grown louder about his concerns with spam and bots amid a downturn in tech stocks, and pressure on Tesla had begun to slacken his net worth. That had led to questions about Musk’s ability to fund the deal.
Wednesday’s hearing focused on Musk’s team’s ability to request information about Twitter’s internal practices and data. The judge previously ruled against Musk’s team when it sought to collect information from more than 20 company leaders. One of those leaders that Musk’s team had asked for information was Zatko. But the judge rejected the request, raising the possibility that Musk’s side will use the new disclosures to reconsider the request.
Twitter has previously disputed the whistleblower’s and Musk’s characterizations regarding spam and bots. Several leading artificial intelligence experts have publicly supported Twitter’s methodology for its spam and bot calculations.
Twitter attorney Bradley Wilson argued in court on Wednesday that the number of spam was only an estimate, supported by legal disclosures highlighting the inaccurate nature of the count.
Twitter sues Elon Musk and creates epic legal battle
“We have an inherently subjective assessment,” Wilson said. “Twitter made an estimate and it was very candid that it did.”
He also noted that some of Musk’s teams are requesting “explicit to seek private information,” which the company would not give away, including users’ IP addresses, phone numbers, and information about users’ locations.
The hearing opened Wednesday with Spiro arguing that Twitter was flipping out on its rationale for not offering Musk’s team data, data he believes is important in understanding what’s really going on at the social media company. .
“There’s this back and forth, and every time the goalposts seem to move,” Spiro claimed, citing requests for more data related to spam and bots.
“We’re the potential buyer here and we don’t even know what exists,” Spiro claimed of the data he claimed was blocking Twitter. “It puts us at a big disadvantage.”
He also claimed that he has been involved in cheating around his user numbers for a long time. He argued that Twitter’s growth has been flattening for years, and that the company changed the way it calculated its user numbers in 2019 to show that there was more growth. Spiro said this underlying deception is one reason why the judge should uphold their claims for more data.
Twitter has said it invented the new way to calculate growth in 2019 to give investors a clearer picture of the company’s status.
Lawmakers Investigate Twitter Security Whistleblower Accusations
Spiro raised allegations directly from Zatko’s complaint, claiming that Twitter had shut down a major tool internally called ROPO to “read-only phone”, blocking an account from tweeting until a user can prove it’s linked to a real person. He claimed a senior executive was planning to shut it down completely. The Post previously reported that ROPO was never shut down and that the management proposed an overhaul, not a closure.
Wilson argued against handing over private data to Musk’s team, citing concerns about user privacy and fears that such information would “fall into the wrong hands.”
He specifically pointed to Musk as a problem. Twitter would lose control of the data and anonymous speakers could be exposed, as well as private messages.
“This is someone who has publicly mocked Twitter. Who has suggested that this lawsuit would be used as a means of disclosing Twitter’s internal data. And who has recently and publicly confirmed that if he is able to under come to terms with the contract he signed, his plan is to start a competitive business,” Wilson added.