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This article was published on August 24, 2012

Twitter developers send inquiries to the Federal Trade Commission over possible anti-trust issues

Twitter developers send inquiries to the Federal Trade Commission over possible anti-trust issues

If you haven’t had your head in the sand over the past few weeks, you’ll know that people aren’t very happy with Twitter. This includes third-party developers, which have begun reaching out to the Federal Trade Commission urging them to look into recent restrictions put on them by the service.

Technically savvy users are seeing a turn away from them and towards the masses that is leading Twitter to focus on advertising efforts and controlling how people view Twitter. On a parallel course, Twitter is also removing the access of its friend-finder features from services like Tumblr and Instagram.

Unfortunately, this quest has led Twitter to enact strict new user caps and other rules that are constricting the ability of third-party developers to produce certain kinds of apps. Specifically, applications that act as Twitter clients, letting users do the normal stuff they do on the service, like post and view tweets. This has, understandably, upset a lot of these developers, as it will directly affect their livelihoods.

There is also the question of competition, as Twitter is essentially saying that Twitter clients are no longer welcome to compete on an equal level with its own in-house apps. Notably, Twitter’s official apps are scattershot, with the web, iPhone and basic Android apps getting the most updates — while the Mac, iPad and Windows Phone clients lagging behind. Not to mention the complete lack of an official Windows desktop client.

And even the most-updated of Twitter’s apps are considered well behind the feature set and polish of many third-party apps like Twitterrific, Tweetbot, Echofon, Tweetings and more.

This perceived attack on open competition in the Twitter client marketplace has now prompted developers of these apps to reach out to the FTC to ask them to look into the issue. The Next Web has spoken to several Twitter developers who have reached out to representatives of the organization with regards to possible antitrust violations.

One developer, David Barnard of AppCubby, shared his email with us, and noted that he had received a brief confirmation of response, and an indication that it was being forwarded to the appropriate staff, but nothing more.


Subject: Twitter

The announcement Twitter made yesterday regarding 3rd party apps on their ecosystem doesn’t fit the typical definition of anti-trust, but will definitely lead to “inferior service” and “fewer choices for consumers”. I think it’s worth looking into.

It already forced me out of the market:


Other developers were not willing to go on the record as they’re still planning on continuing to be involved in the ecosystem for now. But they have confirmed to us that they have sent inquiries to the FTC as well.

Barnard’s post, referenced in the email above, describes his motivations for removing the app from sale and his decision not to participate in Twitter’s ecosystem any longer.

Every time we revisited the potential of Tweet Speaker the conversation turned to the challenges of making money in the App Store and what the future might hold for 3rd party Twitter apps. I’d like to think we could have overcome the challenges of the App Store with a few of the strategies we were working on, but I’m glad we didn’t spend much time trying. We now know the fate of 3rd party Twitter apps — a slow death.

By his own admission, Tweet Speaker was not an enormously successful app, but the developers that we’ve heard are also communicating with the FTC mirror Barnard’s sentiments on the matter.

Twitter has had run-ins in the past with the FTC, including a settlement over charges that it failed to protect user privacy that was brought after the service had its servers hacked. And back when the original announcement about third-party clients being persona-non-grata was made in 2011, there were rumblings that the FTC was taking a closer look at how it was handling those relationships.

Twitter has been preparing since its last run-in, hiring a presence in Washington DC, in the shape of a former FTC aide whose role is Director of Public Policy.

At the moment, they’re just more gunshy about going public because they feel there is still more money to be made in the ecosystem. But how much longer will that be true? If enough of these developers, or concerned users, contact the FTC to complain, they might very well take an interest.

That being said, it seems unlikely that the FTC will intervene on behalf of these developers. It is Twitter’s API, after all, and the company can do with it what it wishes. There may be a slim chance that some type of unfairness can be proved though, which is enough for some to at least point the FTC’s watchdogs in Twitter’s direction.