Last week, a lawyer for Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk said that the company’s top management will not be held personally liable if the social network refuses to honor agreements it has with the authorities to protect users’ privacy. Former employees of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) believe that everything is not that simple, reports Reuters.
In May 2022, the administration of Twitter entered into an agreement with the department to improve the privacy of users of the platform, and responsibility for its observance was assigned to employees of the company who held certain positions. As new management moved in, the terms of that agreement were jeopardized: Musk is actively trying to turn the debt-ridden company into profitability, and some of the employees named in the document have been laid off or resigned themselves.
Former director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, Howard Beales, noted that since the presidency of Barack Obama, the agency has begun to hold employees personally accountable for their decisions about companies. Another former director of the bureau, David Vladeck, believes that holding top Twitter executives personally accountable will be preceded by another investigation and new government sanctions against the company as a whole. Other FTC officials agreed that current FTC chief Lina Khan is prepared to use personal liability mechanisms for breaches of agreements: On Thursday, a commission official noted that the FTC is watching the company with “deep concern.”
When those responsible for implementing the agreement between Twitter and the FTC resigned, one of the company’s lawyers recommended that employees seek whistleblower protection if they were uncomfortable with management’s direction. He noted that compliance with the terms of the agreement has been shifted to ordinary engineers, who have been instructed to “self-certify” compliance of platform changes with FTC requirements, exposing them to the risk of legal ramifications.
But Musk’s attorney, Alex Spiro, assured them that the company itself, and not its individual employees, is responsible for the company’s actions. The company boss said there were no consequences and sent an email to Twitter employees, which said, among other things: “I cannot stress enough that Twitter will do its best to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FTC agreement. Everything you read to the contrary is an outright lie. The same applies to all other government regulations under which Twitter operates.”.
Penalties can be significant: non-compliance is charged $46,517 “per violation,” and violations can be cumulative by the number of users per day. Providing false information in reports to specialist departments threatens responsible employees with criminal prosecution.