This article was published on November 29, 2012

PeopleBrowsr sues Twitter over Firehose access, gets injunction, claims it is violating openness

PeopleBrowsr sues Twitter over Firehose access, gets injunction, claims it is violating openness
Ken Yeung
Story by

Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startup Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startups, parties, and interesting people. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and Google+.

PeopleBrowsr, the social analytics service and parent company to Kred, has shared news that it has been awarded a temporary restraining order against Twitter granting it continued access to the service’s full Firehose.

Update: We’ve received a copy of Twitter’s opposition to PeopleBrowsr’s request for a temporary injunction and have embedded that below, along with any new information from it.

In PeopleBrowsr, Inc. et al vs Twitter, Inc., the company alleged that Twitter had restricted access to the firehose, a powerful stream of tweets and data that was important to the company — something that helped the service provide the necessary social data intelligence required by its customers. The San Francisco Superior Court told Twitter that the application did have merit and a hearing date for the preliminary injunction was scheduled for January 8, 2013.

Jodee Rich, the founder and CEO of PeopleBrowsr, said in a blog post that he welcomed today’s decision: “We relied on Twitter’s promise of openness when we invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours of development time. Long term supply is essential as this industry matures. We made this application to ensure full unrestricted access to the Firehose for our Enterprise and Government clients.” He also believes that Twitter needs to maintain an open ecosystem for its unique data.

Twitter’s reaction

A Twitter spokesperson tells us that they believe the case is without merit and that the company will “vigorously defend against it”.

You might recall that earlier this year, Twitter had started to become more conservative with its API and was cracking down on how third party services were using its feed. This actually does not appear to be the case here. Sources familiar with the matter tell us that PeopleBrowsr’s access to the Firehose was originally set to expire soon and that it chose to seek out a temporary restraining order so that it could continue to have access to it.

We’ve heard that Twitter told PeopleBrowsr could continue to have access to the Firehose if it approached either Gnip or Datasift, the official resellers, and told the company this months ago. It claimed that it did not want to renew most of its “direct-to-user” contracts and move them to a structure where it would be handled by the resellers.

What’s behind the lawsuit?

The lawsuit claims that Twitter receives more than $1 million per year from PeopleBrowsr for access based on an agreement the companies had in June 2010. As part of that, PeopleBrowsr would be charged the greater of a minimum monthly fee or 25% of its gross revenue. It states that, as previously stated, any denial of access could “devastate [PeopleBrowsr’s] business”.

With regards to those resellers that PeopleBrowsr can go to? Apparently it’s not enough for the company — in its suit, the company claims that “Twitter’s alternative data offerings, including those provided by its partners Gnip and DataSift, provide only a small fraction of the data provided by the Firehose, and are not sufficient to support PeopleBrowsr’s products.”  In addition, PeopleBrowsr claims that the resellers won’t provide them access because Twitter said not to.

In using the Firehose, the complaint states that the service receives between 3,000-4,000 tweets per second and has over 1,000 days worth of tweets for over 120 million people.

Prior to its filing, Twitter had allegedly told PeopleBrowsr in an email on July 25, 2012 that it was going to cut off access on November 30, 2012. In the email it stated:

 We would like to begin the process to transition PeopleBrowsr to our standard for elevated data access. As explained to you many times over the past year, we are no longer in a position to continue to support PeopleBrowsr’s current month-to-month Firehose license. Over the past year and a half, Twitter has publicly moved away from direct legacy Firehose licenses and created channel resyndication partnerships with Gnip and DataSift to address broad commercial demand in a consistent and transparent manner. Our partners at Gnip and DataSift offer products with a licensing model tailored to a wide array of reasonable use cases. For example, PeopleBrowsr’s peers with industry-leading products that compete directly with Kred and Playground licenses Twitter data through this tier.

On the flip side, PeopleBrowsr’s complaint states that Twitter told it that access was going to be restricted to “an inner sanctum of closely controlled special partnerships”.

Twitter: this would force us to work with PeopleBrowsr

In their official rebuttal of the lawsuit, the company claimed that by accepting PeopleBrowsr’s arguments, it was tantamount to ordering Twitter to do business with PeopleBrowsr, something that it claims would violate the law. It states that as the company grows, so too have its contracting practices. It believes that PeopleBrowsr is free to contract with any of the resellers, but isn’t allowed to “insist that Twitter preserve forever its earlier business model, or continue to be bound by a contract that expired more than a year ago.”

Twitter’s stance is that the lawsuit would order the company to refrain from exercising its termination rights to the agreement and enter into a mandatory injunction requiring it to sign up for a multi-year contract against its will. It’s response states that hornbook law bars this from happening and is supported by past precedent.

About the Firehose

With the Firehose, companies are able to integrate their services with over 340 million tweets that are being sent each day. Without access, companies who use Twitter’s data are rate limited and only have a small percentage of tweets from which to analyze and use. For a service like PeopleBrowsr, the Firehose was instrumental in helping to bring to life products like Kred, which measures real-time social influence. Without it, the service might take a hit, since Twitter is a major component.

The Firehose was first introduced at the end of 2010 and nearly three years later, it looks like the company has been making some necessary adjustments to it. Companies that have access to it include Dataminr, Salesforce’s Radian6, and DataSift, along with search engines that Twitter has deals with like Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo.

PeopleBrowsr vs Twitter — Temporary Restraining Order Memorandum 28 Nov 2012

Twitter’s legal filing in response to PeopleBrowsr’s request for a TRO

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.

Also tagged with

Back to top