S The Twitter trial date is fast approachingElon Musk’s legal team sent a summons of Twitter’s former head of security Peter “Mudge” Zatko, who filed a complaint against the company that was became public last week. In the complaint, Zatko claims he witnessed “egregious flaws, negligence, willful ignorance and threats to national security and democracy” at Twitter, which he says tried to hide its messy inner workings from regulators and investors.
Zatko, a respected security researcher, joined the company in 2020 after hackers gained access to a cluster of high-ranking Twitter accounts — Joe Biden and Elon Musk among them — for promoting a cryptocurrency scam. He was fired in January by Parag Agrawal, who replaced Jack Dorsey as the company’s CEO.
Musk’s team is seeking testimony and a wide array of documents from Zatko, hoping to bolster its case ahead of an Oct. 17 trial in Delaware Chancery Court. Zatko also received a congressional subpoena in light of the whistleblower’s complaint and will appear before Senate Judiciary Committee next month.
In the filing, Musk’s legal team requested any documents, including any documents or communications related to the “impact” of spam on Twitter’s business and the use of mDAU (more on that shortly) as a “key metric.” But they’re casting a wide net and have also asked for anything about security vulnerabilities, foreign spies working at Twitter or “Twitter’s attempts to hide its security vulnerabilities from investors, regulators and/or the public.”
In the whistleblower’s complaint filed with the SEC, Zatko strayed from security territory, accusing the company of misleading Musk about the number of bots on its platform. As Musk tries to derail his deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, he has repeatedly pointed to the platform’s problem with bots, claiming the company misrepresents the total amount of spam and non-human accounts on the platform in order to portray itself in a more flattering light. light.
Musk is clearly fighting for a reason for the transaction at this point—after all, he had vowed “defeat the spam bots or die trying” back in April — so the whistleblower’s complaint provides some fresh fodder for his legal team to try to use as they make the case that he should be able to walk away. But just because Musk wants to bring in Zatko to support his claim that Twitter somehow misled him doesn’t mean the bot parts of the whistleblower’s complaint will actually have any bearing on the situation.
Part of the confusion is that Musk has accused Twitter of misleading the public about how the overall bot rate on the platform could be higher than 5%. Twitter actually talks about the percentage of bots within a different portion of users overall: something called mDAU, which stands for “monetizable daily active users.” The company says less than 5% of mDAUs are made up of bots; Musk says Twitter says less than 5% of its total users are made up of bots.
Twitter says it actively filters out bots and spam accounts from its mDAU metric, which it created to give advertisers an idea of how many people can be reached with ads. It’s all pretty confusing, mostly because the mDAU metric is a weird, non-standard thing that Twitter came up with, and it’s made even more confusing by Musk’s claim that Twitter is claiming something it’s not. More ▼ confusingly, Twitter has been before admitted to miscalculating mDAU.
Relying on mDAU is odd and can be quite questionable at first, but that’s not really the point here. Arguably, none of this bot stuff is moot at all — it really depends on what the judge decides flies in Musk’s quest to avoid his binding commitment to buy Twitter. And while Zatko’s report questions the use of mDAU as a metric and a bunch of other things within the company’s security framework, it also supports Twitter’s claim that it keeps spam out of mDAU because the purpose of mDAU is to give advertisers an idea of how many people might interact with ads. There’s probably no reason for Twitter to really increase that number by saturating it with bots, because that would make it seem like ads are performing worse on the platform (because bots don’t interact with ads).
The Twitter whistleblower is no expert on bots, and again, the bot stuff is a salute from the Musk camp, but Zatko’s involvement could support Musk in other ways. There’s a world in which Musk’s legal team could use Zatko’s more serious concerns — like that foreign governments were able to easily infiltrate the company, or that Twitter misled regulators about its security practices — to argue that Musk should be allowed out of the deal. Based on the wide-ranging requests Musk’s legal team is making, it appears they’re quickly pushing with a “see what’s left” approach.