The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) fined Twitter 450,000 euros (about US$546,000) for failing to timely notify the Irish DPC within the required 72 hours of discovering a Q4 2018 breach involving a bug in its Android app, and also for failing to adequately document that breach. The bug caused some 88,726 European Twitter users’ protected tweets to be made public.
The case is notable because it is the first fine levied against a U.S. technology company in a cross border violation under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR), which went into effect in 2018. Under the GDPR, the member state of the foreign company’s EU headquarters takes the lead on inquiries on behalf of all the EU’s 27 member states. Because Twitter EU’s headquarters are in Ireland, the DPC took the lead on the investigating the 2018 breach incident, which Twitter attributed to poor staffing during the holidays.
Pursuant to Article 60 of the GDPR, the Irish DPC submitted its draft decision last May to the other EU DPAs. In the draft decision, the Irish DPC found Twitter’s violations to be negligent, but not intentional or systematic. Other member states disagreed with the Irish DPC draft decision, due in part to the small proposed fine. The Irish DPC‘s proposed fine was only a small fraction of the maximum fine amount permitted, which under GDPR is up to 4% of a company’s global revenue or 20 million euros ($22 million), whichever is higher. Twitter’s global annual revenue was reportedly about $60 million in 2018.
The Irish DPC responded to the criticisms from other member states by stating that its proposed fine under the GDPR was an “effective, proportionate and dissuasive measure” and brought the matter before the European Data Protection Board, which upheld most of the decision but directed Ireland to increase the fine.
The Twitter case is just the first of many cases involving U.S. companies before the Irish DPC, as there are some 20 other pending inquiries. Ireland also serves as the EU headquarters for U.S. technology companies such as Facebook, Apple and Google.