Twitter always fancied itself a more benevolent, open startup than most. It referred to its “ecosystem” rather than its customers and, as recently as this January, referred to itself as “an information utility” rather than a mere social network.
But that rhetoric may come back to haunt the microblogging service: A state superior court judge in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order forcing Twitter to keep providing a smaller startup with a river of Twitter data. Twitter wants to curtail the data access amid a broader crackdown on use of its stream of tweets and relationship data, but the startup, San Francisco-based PeopleBrowsr, says Twitter created the impression the data would remain available for a long period of time. “Twitter has built its business on the promise of openness,” PeopleBrowser wrote of the case on its blog. In court papers it added that “Twitter has repeatedly and consistently promised that it would maintain an ‘open ecosystem’ for its data.” (You can read the full complaint here.)
PeopleBrowsr wants to prevent Twitter from exercising a contract provision allowing either party to terminate the deal for any reason with just 30 days’ notice. Twitter, meanwhile, has said this flies in the face of “Contracts 101.” A hearing for a preliminary injunction is slated for Jan. 8.
Twitter provides PeopleBrowsr with access to its full “firehose” of data, a massive stream of tweets that could not be collected from Twitter’s open website without violating the company’s terms of service and without circumventing technical blockades. PeopleBrowsr sifts and analyzes the data for marketers and other clients including, the company says in court papers, the Department of Defense. Getting cut off by Twitter will invalidate contracts with those clients, including a $3 million deal involving the DoD, and harm competition in the data analytics space, PeopleBrowsr maintains.
If PeopleBrowsr gains further traction with its argument, it could create a precedent that forces startups well beyond Twitter to weigh their statements more carefully and to ensure that any open interfaces they provide are not misconstrued as long-term promises. Would Facebook need to provide an aggregated feed of all public status updates from users? Would social networks like Foursquare be prevented from curtailing their APIs without some minimum notice?
There have been tensions for decades between the owners of tech platforms and the companies who build on those platforms; it’s historically been common for platforms like Twitter to subsume functions built by outsiders on top of the platform. What’s not so common is for a platform creator to be as vocal and convincing as Twitter has been about what a unique and good-hearted company it is.
Twitter’s uniquely successful evangelism of its own technology might just turn the company into a test case for how technology companies can and should communicate with one another in the age of social media.
via Chicago Tribune:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc’s steadily tightening grip over the 140-character messages on its network has set off a spirited debate in Silicon Valley over whether a social media company should or should not lay claim over its user-generated content.
That debate has now landed in court.
A San Francisco judge on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order compelling Twitter to continue providing access to its “Firehose” – the full daily stream of some 400 million tweets – to PeopleBrowsr Inc, a data analytics firm that sifts through Twitter and resells that information to clients ranging from technology blogs to the U.S. Department of Defense.
As part of a broader revenue-generating strategy, Twitter in recent months has begun clamping down on how its data stream may be accessed, to the dismay of many third-party developers who have built businesses and products off of Twitter’s Firehose.
PeopleBrowsr, which began contracting Firehose access in July 2010, has continued to buy Twitter data on a month-to-month basis until this July, when Twitter invoked a clause in the agreement that allowed for terminating the contract without cause.
The court’s decision to extend the two San Francisco-based companies’ contract has not settled the legal spat; a judge will hear PeopleBrowsr’s arguments for a preliminary injunction against Twitter on January 8.
But the case could provide the first, in-depth look at issues surrounding one of the Internet industry’s most prominent players in Twitter.
In a court filing, PeopleBrowsr founder John David Rich argued the Twitter move was a “commercial disaster” for his business and contradicted the spirit of repeated public statements that Twitter has made regarding its data.
“Twitter has repeatedly and consistently promised that it would maintain an ‘open ecosystem’ for its data,” Rich said in his company’s request for a temporary injunction.
In its response, Twitter’s lawyers argued: “This is Contracts 101.”
Twitter said in a statement after the court decision: “We believe the case is without merit and will vigorously defend against it.”