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Twitter deceived people about how it used their personal data, FTC says

Federal regulators on Wednesday slapped Twitter with a $150 million fine for allegedly misleading users about how the social media company used their personal data.

From May 2013 to September 2019, Twitter collected users' email addresses and phone numbers, saying it needed the information to secure their accounts, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But the blogging service was also providing that data to advertisers so they could target individuals — something it did not disclose, the agency said. Advertisers could match up users' phone numbers or emails with information they already had, or bought from data brokers, to target specific individuals.

"Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads," FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. "This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter's primary source of revenue."

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, regulators also alleged that Twitter falsely claimed that it complied with U.S. privacy agreements with the European Union and Switzerland, which prohibit companies from processing user information in ways that are at odds with purposes authorized by users.

Twitter will pay $150 million to settle charges of deceptive advertising, as well as change its services to give users more options to verify their accounts, the FTC said. 

The government fine represents about 3% of Twitter's annual revenue. The Justice Department and the FTC announced the settlement with Twitter on Wednesday. 

This isn't the first time regulators have accused Twitter of being deceptive in how it used people's data. In 2011, after two data breaches that the FTC said stemmed from Twitter's lax security, the FTC barred Twitter from misrepresenting "the extent to which it protects the security, privacy and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information" for 20 years. The FTC and Justice Department allege that Twitter's latest conduct violated the 2011 order.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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