Elon Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, yesterday sent a letter to Microsoft accusing the company of using the Twitter APIs in ways that violated Twitter policies. Spiro’s letter came about a month after Microsoft halted API use instead of paying new fees and Musk threatened to sue Microsoft, claiming it was “illegally using Twitter data.”
“As you are no doubt aware, for years, Microsoft has used Twitter’s standard developer APIs free of charge in order to benefit from Twitter’s data and services in key Microsoft products that generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue for Microsoft annually,” Spiro wrote to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Up until last month, when it declined to pay even a discounted rate for continued access to Twitter’s APIs and content, Microsoft operated eight separate Twitter API apps, listed below, which appear to provide data and functionality for at least five separate Microsoft products and services, including Xbox One, Bing Pages, Azure, Power Platform, and Ads.”
Twitter—which is facing numerous lawsuits alleging it hasn’t paid its bills—is asking Microsoft to complete a compliance audit on its API usage by June 7.
Spiro’s letter said that by registering to use the Twitter API, Microsoft agreed to comply with Twitter’s rules. “However, our recent review of Microsoft’s activity on the Microsoft Apps indicates that Microsoft may have been in violation of multiple provisions of the Agreement for an extended period of time,” Spiro wrote.
Microsoft accused of exceeding rate limits
One of Spiro’s allegations is that Microsoft exceeded Twitter’s API rate limits. Spiro did not cite a specific limit but said that Twitter prohibits API users from exceeding or circumventing the API limits and prohibits use of the Twitter API “in a manner that exceeds reasonable request volume” or “constitutes excessive or abusive usage.”
“Microsoft Apps accessed Twitter’s APIs over 780 million times and retrieved over 26 billion tweets in 2022 alone,” he wrote. “Indeed, for one of the Microsoft Apps, Microsoft’s account information outright states that it intends to allow its customers to ‘go around throttling limits.'”
When contacted by Ars, Microsoft provided a statement confirming it received the letter. “We heard from a law firm representing Twitter with some questions about our previous use of the free Twitter API. We will review these questions and respond appropriately. We look forward to continuing our long term partnership with the company.”
Spiro also alleged that Microsoft “appears to have used the Twitter API for unauthorized uses and purposes.” Microsoft’s “Azure Logic Apps for Fairfax app supplied Twitter content to a number of Microsoft endpoints that reference a government entity or agency, despite the fact that the Agreement prohibits use of the Twitter APIs on behalf of ‘any government-related entity’ without first ‘identify[ing] all such Government End Users’ to Twitter,” the letter said.
Microsoft was required “to disclose and obtain approval for its intended use case for each Microsoft App” and notify Twitter of any substantial change to those use cases, he wrote. But the company allegedly “did not identify any use case for six of the eight Microsoft Apps that it continued to operate until last month.”
“The Agreement also prohibits the registration of multiple apps for ‘a single use case or substantially similar or overlapping use cases.’ But Microsoft registered multiple apps each for its Bing Pages, Ads, and Azure products and services, in clear violation of this provision,” Spiro wrote.
Audit could be prelude to lawsuit
Finally, Spiro claims that Microsoft violated Twitter rules on automation when using the API for Power Platform and Ads. “Microsoft’s API requests for these apps include Twitter actions that are subject to certain restrictions on automation, including retweets and direct messages,” he wrote.
The letter’s audit request asked for extensive details on how Microsoft used Twitter APIs over the past two years, including “identification of any and all government-related entities served by each Microsoft App.” The audit request also seeks a description of how Microsoft used token pooling and “any other means implemented in the Microsoft Apps to circumvent Twitter’s rate limits for the Twitter APIs.”
Twitter wants the audit to identify “all Twitter Content… currently in Microsoft’s possession or control,” and provide records describing all Twitter content “retained by Microsoft through its use of the Twitter APIs, the manner and format in which such Twitter Content was stored, and the manner in which such Twitter Content was used by Microsoft.” The Musk-owned company wants details on any Twitter content that Microsoft previously obtained and destroyed and “a description of how such Twitter Content was destroyed.”
The demand for a compliance audit could be a prelude to a lawsuit. “They trained illegally using Twitter data. Lawsuit time,” Musk tweeted on April 19 in a response to Microsoft dropping Twitter from its advertising platform instead of paying Twitter’s new API fees.