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The Future of Privacy in a Social Media and Networking World



WASHINGTON Thursday April 19, 2012 – First search, then social media, and now privacy concerns?  The digital world has transformed the way consumers access content; one can search an article they are interested in, subscribe to Google Reader, follow a friend’s recommendation from Twitter or read an article a co worker read via the Washington Post Social Reader on Facebook.  With content companies and social media companies competing for ad dollars and the eyes of consumers, where do the privacy concerns come in, and how is government and industry dealing with these consumer concerns?

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“The Future of Privacy in a Social Media and Networking World” from

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“The Future of Privacy in a Social Media and Networking World” from

At Tuesday’s Broadband Breakfast “Social Networking, the End of Media and Future of Privacy,” government officials, industry representatives and advertising experts all weighed in on this question and many more.

Julie Brill, Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission gave the opening Keynote remarks summarizing the FTC’s recent report setting out new industry privacy framework for a nation that loves to share.

“Before our children can walk or talk, we teach them to share,” said Brill, “So it is no wonder that we have flocked to social media, a platform based on sharing, to share everything from our birth dates to films of our child’s birth.”

Social media has changed the model for news and the way businesses interact with consumers. Brill cited an Ad Age report showing that businesses will spend 27% of their digital budget on social media advertising in the upcoming year which is 20% more than the previous 12 months.

While these numbers are no surprise, concerns about privacy in social media landscape continue to escalate. Brill explains this with a simple analogy, “taking is not sharing…Many privacy problems online arise when companies forget the basic principles of the playroom.”

Brill used the recent Facebook, Google Buzz, and Twitter settlements to highlight the need for industry wide comprehensive privacy programs to disclose changes to privacy policies, changes to information sharing practices and protect against breaches of private user data. These as well as “cases we’ve brought involving new platforms like mobile apps, children’s online services, and data brokers – led us to realize it was time to update our approach to protecting consumers’ privacy.” Brill continued, “We had to take account of the vast changes in technology, the myriad new ways that consumers’ information is collected and used, and the need to better communicate these new practices to consumers.”

The Framework laid out by the FTC a couple weeks ago articulates the best practices for companies that collect consumer data and will help companies develop comprehensive privacy and data security practices.

There are three components of the framework:

Privacy by Design – A call for companies to integrate privacy and security protections into new products.

Simplified Choices for Businesses and Consumers – consumers should be given clear and simple choices that they can implement at convenient and relevant times.

Greater Transparency – companies should provide more information about how they collect and use personal data.

One way, according to Brill, that they can simplify choice, is by calling on industry to develop a Do Not Track mechanism. By developing browser tools, icon-and-cookie based mechanisms, promising to make these mechanisms interoperable and creating technical standards, Do No Track, “has the potential to provide consumers with simple and clear information about online data and use practices, and to allow consumers to make choices in connection with those practices.”

Brill does not believe that Do Not Track will automatically cause users to opt out of tracking. She added, “Google offers its users the ability to refine the types of ads they see through its ‘Ad Preferences’ dashboard, and it also offers its users the ability to opt out of tracking entirely. Consumers seem to appreciate knowing how Google has sized up their interests, and they overwhelmingly exercise more granular choices to adjust the ads they will see, rather than opt out.”

The Commissioner hopes that with a Do Not Track mechanism in place by the end of the year, companies will see improvements in user experience that will lead to greater consumer trust.

With Do Not Track being the first action item to implement recommendations in the privacy report, the FTC lays out four others.

Second, the Commission is calling on mobile companies to work towards improved privacy protection including the development of short and meaningful disclosure . On May 30th, FTC staff will be holding a workshop to address the issues of making mobile privacy disclosures short and effective.

Third, the Commission supports legislation to provide consumers with access to information about them held by so called data brokers. The Commission asks data brokers that compile data for marketing purposes to explore creating a centralized database where they could identify themselves to consumers and explain how they collect data. Additionally these brokers should detail the access rights and choices they provide with respect to consumer data they hold.

The fourth action item, calls on the Commission to hold workshops to recognize the concerns that derive from comprehensive tracking of online consumers done by ISPs and large social networks.

Finally the last item asks the FTC to work with the Department of Commerce to help develop the sector specific codes of conduct articulated in the Administration’s White Paper on Privacy

In addressing the concerns of a reporter about whether the FTC and industry were on the same page regarding collection in terms of what Do Not Track really means, Brill acknowledged that an important issues is how much collection will be part of the choice consumers are given through Do Not Track. Brill explained that the issue of collection is what prompted the FTC to change its language and propose that the choices given to consumers through Do Not Track would depend on the context of the transaction as opposed to the industry’s commonly accepted practices. Context of the transaction is a much more objective test and is designed not to be a fixed list but rather to allow for innovation and growth in what industry can do and what will be appropriate for collection.

“There is consensus around the notion that there needs to be collection limitation, the question is where the boundaries are going to be, but there is sure but slow progress being made in this area.” said Brill.

Finally when asked about the FTC’s role in determining who is an actual data broker, Brill noted that there is a lot the FTC still does not know and that is why they need to hear more from industry. Brill wants to focus on the low hanging fruit and those companies that recognize themselves as data brokers. “Let’s get them to engage in more transparent activities, to have some sort of website or portal where they inform consumers who they are…there’s one place where consumers can go to find them and then consumers can find out about what access and collection rights that entity offers. Then I think we can start to talk about drawing the lines, where the grey areas are and who is on each side of that line.”

Drew Clark, Founder and Publisher of Broadband then turned the discussion of privacy, social networks and the media over to a panel of industry experts to get their take. The panel of experts included Bruce Gottlieb, General Counsel Atlantic Media Company, Sarah Hudgins, Director of Public Policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Jules Polonetsky, Director and Co Chair of the Future of Privacy Forum.

Gottlieb believes that social networking and media has been a plus for Atlantic because it creates a powerful tool to increase traffic and build a new economic foundation. Small companies can expand rapidly and grow their audiences and revenue. He dismissed the notion that behavioral advertising is bad for publishers of premium content because it takes viewers away from the content.

There are $32 billion in online ad revenue that did not exist 5 years ago, noted Gottlieb, “the issue is that 68% of that pie goes to five players (Google, Yahoo, Facebook …) and that becomes a threat.”

Clark asked Hudgins to go into further detail about how interactive advertising has changed with the advent of search and social.

“Organic search,” explained Hudgins, “still drives a lot of viewers. Just as search was disruptive for publishers, social media will be disruptive for publishers. One constant is that it is still just a new front page. In this instance, one advantage for publishers is the engagement factor – content is still king it is just that engagement is the new queen.”

“Social media now drives users to content and content can become advertising for a brand,” next step noted Hudgins is how you keep them there, and that is where the site’s inventory comes into play.

At the same time, it seems like drivers of ad revenue are becoming more and more complex focusing on, time on the site, unique viewers, and much more. Image and displays, consumer behavior, social engagement, gamification and mobile platforms are all key components of keeping viewers on sites and driving up ad revenue.

Clark moved the discussion towards privacy by asking Polonetsky, about how he views privacy from a consumer standpoint versus a publisher standpoint.

Polonetsky who represents an industry supported think tank believes that people are always looking for the perfect solution to a problem. “Companies are trying to do useful things” said Polonetsky but the ecosystem tend to hold them back. His organization put forward the idea of Do Not Track for behavioral advertisements over an year ago but at that time the industry and ecosystem did not accept that idea. Some people do not want any tracking, on the other hand tracking is essential to return on investment.

Hudgins believes that companies now have to compete based on privacy controls. She suggested that consumers are becoming savvier about privacy settings and therefore transparency when it comes to privacy settings and application data sharing needs is increasingly essential.

Polonetsky was weary about too much choice for consumers when it comes to data collection and privacy. If it is useful for sites to have that information that provides very important data, like when a browser crashes, “Why ask?” he said, “People will say no just for the hell of it.”

People need to understand that there are things that will happen by default that are ok. “Too much choice on micro issues leads to uninformed decisions,” said Polonetsky.

Gottlieb chimed in on a personal note about choices and privacy settings, he would like to make a set of decisions once and have them transfer across all the platforms and devices he works with. “Developing common languages and letting that flow though the technologies would be very useful.”

Moving on to the discussion of data brokers and data aggregators, Hudgins saw a real challenge in drawing the line between the two. While many companies have data about consumers most of it is in aggregated formats. Most of these companies may have no way to parse that data out for consumers in identifiable forms. “The term data brokers can sweep in a lot of companies for practices that may of may not be a big part of what they do.”

Before we start to legislate on privacy, Hudgins believe that we need to wait and see what industry can do. Hudgins also added that she believes the most effective regulator is the media. If there is a change, there is a consumer outcry and the media reporting can create or destroy brand trust.

Gottlieb is skeptical that consumers choose between services based on privacy rather than price and added features. “Privacy is more of a 0 or 1, you don’t notice it till it pisses you off – what pisses you off is what shows up on the front page of the Times.” He believes the bully pulpit has let to more reform than anything else.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Social Media

Twitter Takeover by Elon Musk Forces Conflict Over Free Speech on Social Networks

Transparency laws in Calif. and N.Y. are the ‘liberal’ counterpart to the ‘conservative’ speech laws in Texas and Florida.



WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 — As the Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases that may decide the future of content moderation, panelists on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel disagreed over the steps that platforms can and should take to ensure fairness and protect free speech.

Mike Masnick, founder and editor of Techdirt, argued that both sides of the aisle were attempting to control speech in one way or another, pointing to laws in California and New York as the liberal counterpoints to the laws in Texas and Florida that are headed to the Supreme Court.

“They’re not as blatant, but they are nudging companies to moderate in a certain way,” he said. “And I think those are equally unconstitutional.”

Censorship posed a greater threat to the ideal of free speech than would a law forcing platforms to carry certain content, said Bret Swanson, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Free speech and pluralism, as an ethos for the country and really for the West, are in fact more important than the First Amendment,” he said.

At the same time, content moderation legislation is stalled by a sharp partisan divide, said Mark MacCarthy, a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“Liberals and progressives want action to remove lies and hate speech and misinformation from social media and the conservatives want equal time for conservative voices, so there’s a logjam gridlock that can’t move,” he said. “I think it might be broken if, as I predict, the Supreme Court says that the only way you can regulate social media companies is through transparency.”

Twitter’s past and current practices raise questions about bias and free speech

While talking about Elon Musk’s controversial changes to Twitter’s content moderation practices, panelists also discussed the impact of Musk’s rhetoric surrounding the topic more broadly.

“Declaring yourself as a free speech site without understanding what free speech actually means is something that doesn’t last very long,” Masnick said.

When a social media company like Twitter or Parler declares itself to be a “free speech site” is really just sending a signal to some of the worst people and trolls online to begin harassment, abuse and bigotry, he said.

That is not a sustainable business model, Masnick argued.

But Swanson took the opposite approach. He called Musk’s acquisition of Twitter “a real seminal moment in the history and the future of free speech,” and called it an antidote to “the most severe collapse of free speech maybe in American history.”

MacCarthy said he didn’t believe the oft-repeated assertion that Twitter was biased against conservatives before most Musk took over. “The only study I’ve seen of political pluralism on Twitter — and it was done by Twitter itself back when they had the staff to do that kind of thing — suggested that Twitter’s amplification and recommendation engines actually favored conservative tweets over liberal ones.”

Masnick agreed, pointing to other academic studies: “They seemed to bend over backwards to often allow conservatives to break the rules more than others,” he said.

Randolph May, president of The Free State Foundation, said that he was familiar with the studies but disagreed with their findings.

Citing the revelations from the laptop of Hunter Biden, a story that the New York Post broke in October 2020 about the Joe Biden’s son, May said: “To me, that that was a consequential censorship action. Then six months later before a congressional committee, [Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey said, ‘Oops, we made we made a big mistake when we took down the New York Post stories.’”

Multiple possibilities for the future of content moderation

Despite his criticism of current practices, May said he did not believe platforms should eliminate content moderation practices altogether. He drew a distinction between topics subject to legitimate public debate and those posts that encourage terrorism or facilitate sex trafficking. Those kinds of posts should be subject to moderation practices, he said.

May made three suggestions for better content moderation practices: First, platforms should establish a presumption that they will not censor or downgrade material without clear evidence that their terms of service have been violated.

Second, platforms should work to enable tools that facilitate personalization of the user experience.

Finally, the current state of Section 230 immunity should be replaced with a “reasonableness standard,” he said.

Other panelists disagreed with the subjectivity of such a reasonableness standard. MacCarthy highlighted the Texas social media law, which bans discrimination based on viewpoint. “Viewpoint is undefined: What does that mean?” he asked.

“Does it mean you can’t get rid of Nazi speech, you can’t get rid of hate speech, you can’t get rid of racist speech? What does it mean? No one knows. And so here’s a requirement of government that no one can interpret. If I were the Supreme Court, I’d declare that void for vagueness in a moment.”

MacCarthy predicted that the Supreme Court would reject the content-based provisions in the Texas and Florida laws while upholding the transparency standard, opening the door, he argued, for bipartisan transparency legislation.

But to Masnick, even merely a transparency requirement would be an unsatisfactory result: “How would conservatives feel if the government said, ‘Fox News needs to be transparent about how they make their editorial decision making?’”

“I think everyone would recognize immediately that that is a huge First Amendment concern,” he said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Elon and Ye and Donald, Oh My!

With Elon Musk finally taking the reins at Twitter after a tumultuous acquisition process, what additional new changes will come to the world’s de facto public square? The world’s richest man has already reinstated certain banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump. Trump has made his own foray into the world of conservative social media, as has politically polarizing rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, currently in the process of purchasing right-wing alternative platform Parler. Ye is no stranger to testing the limits of controversial speech. With Twitter in the hands of Musk, Parler in the process of selling and Trump’s Truth Social sort-of-kind-of forging ahead in spite of false starts, is a new era of conservative social media upon us?


  • Mark MacCarthy, Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings Institution
  • Mike Masnick, Founder and Editor, Techdirt
  • Randolph May, President, The Free State Foundation
  • Bret Swanson, Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Mark MacCarthy is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. He is also adjunct professor at Georgetown University in the Graduate School’s Communication, Culture, & Technology Program and in the Philosophy Department. He teaches courses in the governance of emerging technology, AI ethics, privacy, competition policy for tech, content moderation for social media, and the ethics of speech. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law.

Mike Masnick is the founder and editor of the popular Techdirt blog as well as the founder of the Silicon Valley think tank, the Copia Institute. In both roles, he explores the intersection of technology, innovation, policy, law, civil liberties, and economics. His writings have been cited by Congress and the EU Parliament. According to a Harvard Berkman Center study, his coverage of the SOPA copyright bill made Techdirt the most linked-to media source throughout the course of that debate.

Randolph May is founder and president of The Free State Foundation, an independent, non-profit free market-oriented think tank founded in 2006. He has practiced communications, administrative, and regulatory law as a partner at major national law firms. From 1978 to 1981, May served as Assistant General Counsel and Associate General Counsel at the Federal Communication Commission. He is a past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of  Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.

Bret Swanson is president of the technology research firm Entropy Economics LLC, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a visiting fellow at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University and chairman of the Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS). He writes the Infonomena newsletter at

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

Social media controversy has centered around Elon Musk’s Twitter, Ye’s new role in Parler, and former U.S. President Donald Trump

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See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Social Media

Trump’s Twitter Account Reinstated as Truth Social Gets Merger Extension

The merger, delayed by a federal probe, has left Truth Social without expected funding.



Elon Musk next to a phone displaying the Twitter account of Donald Trump, who has said he will continue to post only on Truth Social.
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson. Graphic by Em McPhie.

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 — Digital World Acquisition Corp. shareholders voted Tuesday to extend the Dec. 8 deadline for its merger with Truth Social, giving the platform a chance at survival as it faces financial and legal challenges.

The right-wing alternative social media platform championed by former President Donald Trump is currently under federal investigation for potential securities violations, which has delayed the merger and forced Truth Social to operate without $1.3 billion in expected funding.

The DWAC vote was delayed six times in order to raise the necessary support, with the company noting in a securities filing that it would be “forced to liquidate” if the vote was unsuccessful. Private investors have already withdrawn millions in funding.

Trump indicated on Truth Social in September that he was prepared to find alternative funding. “SEC trying to hurt company doing financing (SPAC),” he wrote. “Who knows? In any event, I don’t need financing, ‘I’m really rich!’ Private company anyone???”

Trump’s potential return to Twitter poses another risk for Truth Social

Meanwhile, under the new leadership of Elon Musk, Twitter reinstated Trump’s account, which was banned after then-Twitter executives alleged he stoked the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The reinstatement was made official after Musk asked in a public Twitter poll — which received around 15 million votes — whether he should allow the controversial former president back on the platform.

Trump’s potential return to Twitter could undermine Truth Social’s primary attraction, which could be another blow to the fledgling platform.

On Truth Social, the former president encouraged his followers to vote in the poll while indicating that he would not return to Twitter. But with 87 million followers on Twitter and fewer than 5 million on Truth Social, Trump may be tempted to make use of his newly reinstated account despite statements to the contrary, particularly in light of the official announcement of his 2024 presidential campaign.

The campaign could also allow him to bypass his agreement to first post all social media messages to Truth Social and wait six hours before sharing to other platforms. The agreement makes a specific exception for political messaging and fundraising, according to an SEC filing.

Musk’s decision to bring back Trump was one of many controversial decisions he’s made in his short tenure at the social media company — including a number of high-profile firings and the reinstatement of multiple formerly-banned accounts — which has led several major advertisers to pause spending.

Musk tweeted in October that he would convene a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” before making any “major content decisions or account reinstatements.” No such council has been publicly announced, and the Tweet appeared to have been deleted as of Tuesday.

Ye returns to Twitter while details of Parler acquisition remain uncertain

Trump’s reinstatement seems to have motivated at least one controversial figure to return to Twitter: Ye, formerly Kanye West, whose account was restricted in October after tweeting that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” The restrictions were lifted prior to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, but the rapper remained silent on the platform until Nov. 20.

“Testing Testing Seeing if my Twitter is unblocked,” he posted.

Right-wing social media platform Parler announced in October that Ye had agreed to purchase the company. Completion of the acquisition is expected by the end of December, but further details, including financial terms, have yet to be announced.

Twitter draws legislative attention, with changes to the social media landscape on the horizon

One of Musk’s first major changes to Twitter attempted to replace the existing verification system with a process through which anyone could pay $8 per month for a verified account. The initial rollout of paid verification sparked a swarm of accounts impersonating brands and public figures such as Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who responded with a letter demanding answers about how the new verification process would prevent future impersonation.

Markey also co-signed a Nov. 17 letter written by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Twitter for consumer protection violations in light of “serious, willful disregard for the safety and security of its users.”

Musk responded to the letter by posting a meme that mocked the senators’ priorities, but he later appeared to be rethinking the new verification process.

“Holding off relaunch of Blue Verified until there is high confidence of stopping impersonation,” Musk tweeted on Monday.

Other changes to the platform may be out of Musk’s hands, as state and federal legislators consider an increasing number of proposals for the regulation of digital platforms.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association released on Monday a summary of the trends in state legislation regarding content moderation. More than 250 such bills have been introduced during the past two years.

“As a result of the midterm elections, a larger number of states will have one party controlling both chambers of the legislature in addition to the governor’s seat,” CCIA State Policy Director Khara Boender said in a press release. “This, coupled with an increased interest in content moderation issues — on both sides of the aisle — leads us to believe this will be an increasingly hot topic.”

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Social Media

Twitter Loses Senior Officers, Gains White House and Federal Trade Commission Scrutiny

The current kerfufle isn’t the first time Twitter has had a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission.



Screenshot of Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center

WASHINGTON, November 10, 2022 – Elon Musk’s Twitter is facing headwinds as the Federal Trade Commission and the broader administration of President Joe Biden signal scrutiny of the company, as the company’s former senior officers resign amid chaotic policy changes.

“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” an FTC spokesperson said Thursday. “No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees. Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.”

And in a post-Election Day press conference on Wednesday, Biden generally signaled a tough stance against Musk.

Asked if Musk was “a threat to U.S. national security” and whether the federal government should “investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis,” Biden replied, choosing his words carefully:

“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said. “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that.  I’m suggesting that it [is] worth being looked at.  And — and — but that’s all I’ll say.”

Following up on her question, Jenny Leonard of Bloomberg asked “how,” and Biden replied, “There’s a lot of ways.”

Resignation by top Twitter officials

Thursday morning, Twitter’s now-former chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, stepped down in a Tweet. Basedon an internal company message, several outlets reported the same day that the platform’s chief compliance officer and chief privacy officer also quit.

According to The Verge, a Twitter attorney wrote the following on a company forum: “Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them. I do not believe he cares about the human rights activists. the dissidents, our users in un-monetizable regions, and all the other users who have made Twitter the global town square you have all spent so long building, and we all love.”

Twitter’s woes don’t stop there. After Musk instituted a subscription-based verification badge, many fake accounts soon gained verification – including imposters claiming to be former President Donald Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and basketball star LeBron James.

Nor is this Twitter’s only recent run-in with the FTC. In May, the watchdog ordered the platform to pay a $150 million penalty for alleged deceptive use of user data for advertising purposes.

 “I expect…a big increase in the number of whistleblower complaints and other things that people might be filing (against Twitter),” said Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, on a web panel Thursday afternoon.

“[The FTC doesn’t] proactively put out statements regularly, so this is a pretty big deal today,” said moderator Rebecca Kern, a tech-policy reporter for Politico.

In September, Twitter’s former head of security, Peiter Zatko, testified before the U.S. Senate, alleging that the platform doesn’t adequately protect customer data and is vulnerable to meddling by foreign actors.

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