Solomon: Twitter Whistleblower Gives Alarming Look Inside Big Tech, And Elon Musk Pounces


The last week of August was a busy one for Elon Musk’s and Twitter’s lawyers.

In July, Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s internal chief of security, also known as “Mudge,” filed a whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he accused the company of having dangerously lax security standards.

Not one to waste time, Musk is leveraging the complaint, asking the Delaware court to rely on Zatko’s allegations to help extricate him from his obligation to buy Twitter.

The core of Zatko’s whistleblowing against Twitter evinces a company that takes shortcuts and follows its own rules rather than that of industry regulators.

Zatko has alleged that Twitter’s security practices are remarkably weak, leaving all of our personal data vulnerable when we use the social media platform. He also alleges that the lack of proper user security violates a previous settlement federal negotiators made with Twitter.

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Krenar Camili, a New Jersey lawyer, reminds us that this isn’t a story just about Musk or Twitter: “We are definitely in an era where whistleblowers in Big Tech get a lot of attention, for good reason, in the media. While it’s rare that whistleblower testimony impacts another trial, this is what we could see here with how this testimony might shift the Twitter/Musk dynamic.”

When we scratch the surface, we see not only a lack of openness and honesty in Twitter’s internal culture, but a dangerous platform, even if a fraction of what Zatko is alleging is true.

For those of us who have closely followed both Zatko’s and Musk’s allegations in real time, perhaps the most alarming part is the scale of what’s going wrong at Twitter. As this tweet highlighted, if we take Zatko’s perspective at face value, “about half of the company’s 500,000 servers run on outdated software that does not support basic security features such as encryption for stored data or regular security updates by vendors.”

From a legal strategy perspective and given his current best options, Musk may be wise to put his weight behind Zatko’s claims against Twitter.

Will Musk be forced to purchase Twitter in the end?

The author of that tweet wrote about Zatko in 2016, documenting the work that he and his wife, a former National Security Agency employee, were doing to grade the security of existing software programs. Suffice it to say that in court, Twitter is going to have a very hard time discounting Zatko’s bona fides as a world-class security analyst and continuing to characterize him, as it has been doing, as simply a disgruntled employee and poor leader.

None of this bodes well for the company. Whether Twitter can rebound from its tarnished reputation, both from the entire Musk affair as well as Zatko’s allegations, remains to be seen. Twitter definitely has an uphill fight ahead when it comes to steadying its brand and market cap.

Will this all end with the Twitter whistleblower being the piece of the puzzle that allows Musk to get out of the agreement to purchase the company relatively unscathed?

Probably not. While the issues raised by Zatko are very serious and more than likely have some relevance when it comes to whether Twitter should be believed on some of its more important claims and defenses in the Musk case, perhaps Twitter is an example of a tech company too big to fail.

What we are going to see exposed through the Musk case and the whistleblower allegations is a rare inside glimpse into Big Tech. Even an answer to the question of what percentage of Twitter users are bots should give us a much closer look inside Twitter than we’ve previously had.

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A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Solomon has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, the Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo, ABA Journal,, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak and many other leading publications.