Mudge’s report helps Musk’s legal fight over $44B Twitter deal; says there are ‘millions’ of accounts that could be spam bots – TechCrunch

Elon Musk has been handed a rough golden goose feeding the legal battle to end his takeover of Twitter. The tech mogul is trying to rescind his Twitter-approved $44 billion bid because he believes Twitter is not transparent about the number of bots on the platform. Twitter took them to court to have their deal honored, saying it respected all requests. Now, however, Musk can cite data from the company’s former security chief, solitaire hacker Peter “Mudge” Zatko, to bolster his claim.

But if Musk is still looking for Real Number of bots, he will not find here.

The information comes from an explosive whistleblower complaint made earlier this year to the US SEC, FTC and DOJ on Twitter’s cybersecurity and data security mismanagement, which was first made public today.

That complaint includes pretty detailed information on the topic of bots on Twitter.

To be clear, Mudge has said that he had not previously shared information on the subject of bots with Musk:

“Muz began preparing these disclosures in early March 2022, before Mr. Musk expressed any interest in acquiring Twitter, and these disclosures were made available to anyone with a financial interest in Twitter,” the report said. Didn’t tell the person.” And to be sure, bots are a big part of Twitter, it’s at . has been a topic of discussion for at least a decade This time. Nevertheless, the complaint published today by the nonprofit whistleblower assistance A specific reference is included to the dispute between Musk and Twitter, in which the supplied evidence is directly in the hands of Musk.

The complaint runs for about 84 pages, with a section of about 11 pages devoted to the bot issue, which focuses on how Twitter has repeatedly misrepresented bots on the platform, not just Musk’s. with.

Mudge alleges that Twitter not only cares about the number of bots on the platform but that “authorities are not encouraged to accurately ‘detect’ or report the total number of spam bots on the platform.”

He said Twitter’s attempt to deflect buzz from bots was directly related to the creation of a new user metric, monetized daily active users (MDAUs), at the company. As of 2019, the complaint notes, Twitter reported total monthly users, “but stalled because the numbers were subject to negative swings for a variety of reasons, including situations such as the removal of a large number of inappropriate accounts and botnets.”

The MDAU metric, which covers “legitimate user accounts that can click through to ads and actually buy a product”, has been the subject of criticism due to Muzz’s complaint notes: defined the metric to fit a rosier picture of . It can “define the mDAU formula internally, and thus report numbers that will reassure shareholders and advertisers,” it notes.

Executives are encouraged to avoid counting spam bots as mDAUs, it continues, “because the mDAU is reported to advertisers, and advertisers use it to calculate the effectiveness of advertisements.” Simply put, it is not revealing or counting the bot as part of the mDAU because doing so would paint a bad picture for advertisers: they are paying to reach an audience that never clicks on ads. will not do.

The important thing is that the bullseye is never hit here. There are “many millions” of active accounts that are not considered part of the mDAU, Mdage’s complaint notes – “either because they are spam bots, or because Twitter doesn’t believe it can monetize them.

“Musk is right,” he continues. “Twitter executives have little or no personal incentive to accurately ‘detect’ or measure the spread of spam bots.”

An explanation of how difficult it is to track how many bots are on the platform is explained by how the company tries to avoid the topic at an executive, as well as an organizational level.

When Mudge described talking to the former head of site Integrity about spam bot numbers, the response was simple: “We really don’t know.”

The company also could not provide an exact upper limit on the total number of spam bots on the platform, they continued, citing three reasons: (1) no ability to measure; (2) could not keep up with bots and abuse of the platform; (3) There is no hunger to know from senior management, and therefore not given priority. They claim that disclosing the actual numbers would harm the company’s reputation and business.

One very interesting detail in the report is about a tool that Twitter has called ROPO, which is short for Read Only, Phones. ROPO is a script that identifies and blocks spam bots based on how many small accounts engage in content and tweet it. The activity imbalance prompts Twitter to send a text message with a one-time code, so that if the account is just a natural lager, it can verify that this is the case. Or if it’s a bot and doesn’t respond, the account is switched to read-only.

Mudge notes that during his time there an executive proposed disabling ROPO altogether, claiming that it exposed too many errors. The Site Integrity executive teamed up with Mudge to try to prevent this from being disabled, as “ROPO is effectively blocking over 10-12 million bots every month with an astonishingly low rate (<1%) of false positives." was."

There’s also a wide expanse of wordplay from current CEO Parag Agarwal on how many bots account on the platform. The long and short is that the complaint revolves around numbers, but never gets down to them, which effectively proves that Twitter doesn’t have a grip on this number, or at least not such a grip. which he wants to reveal.

Mudge’s report helps Musk’s legal fight over $44B Twitter deal; says there are ‘millions’ of accounts that could be spam bots

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