Twitter Settles With FTC, Gets Cold Shoulder From Facebook

When a cartoon character takes a beating, he might see little birds circling his head.

What does Twitter see?

It's been a rough week for the social-networking site with the avian logo. First, there was drama over the company's Facebook app. On Wednesday, Twitter announced a new feature that allowed users to see which of their Facebook friends were on Twitter and follow them with just a click—essentially a sort of jury-rigged way to import contacts from one service into the other. In no time, Facebook, playing the heavy, slammed the door shut on this feature. Facebook "notified us that they have blocked the update to our application," Twitter told TechCrunch. If this spat seems like a minor issue, consider that cultivating lists of friends and followers is at the core of what these companies do and hope to make hundreds of millions from.

Then yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with Twitter over charges that it "deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information," stemming from two hacking breaches in early 2009. It was the commission's first case against a social-networking service. Twitter avoided a fine, but the FTC statement is damaging. "Serious lapses in the company's data security"—the agency enumerates seven of them—allowed hackers to see users' private data, as well as hijack accounts and send out phony tweets. Among them, from the January 2009 breach:

  • "Breaking: Bill O Riley is gay," from the Fox News account;
  • "i am high on crack right now might not be coming to work today," from CNN's Rick Sanchez;
  • a detailed note from Britney Spears about her genitals;
  • and this fraudulent link from the account of then-President-elect Barack Obama: "What is your opinion on Barack Obama? Take the survey and possibly win $500 in free gas."

Under the terms of the FTC settlement, "Twitter will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality" of users' data, and must create an information-security program that is assessed by an outside auditor every other year for a decade.

On top of Facebook and FTC woes, add in the strain that Twitter's servers have been under every time a World Cup goal is scored, and it's been a rough go for the company all around. Twitter, though, has fostered a culture of embracing its mistakes—the "fail whale" that appears whenever the site is over capacity is probably the Internet's most oddly cherished icon of ineptitude—and will have no trouble bouncing back.