Reports: Twitter’s sudden third-party client lockouts were intentional


Enlarge / Twitter is blocking many third-party clients’ access to its API while continuing to provide no explanation.

Ryan J Lane/Getty Images

Twitter has not yet explained why third-party clients like Twitterific and Tweetbot stopped working late last week. But a new report and testing by one app developer suggest the outages and lack of communication are intentional.

Internal Twitter Slack chat messages viewed by The Information (subscription required) show a senior software engineer writing in a “command center” channel that “third-party app suspensions are intentional.” Another employee, asking about talking points to use when addressing the outages with product partners, was told by a product marketing manager that Twitter had “started to work on comms,” but there was no delivery date, according to The Information’s report.

Some Tweetbot users seemed to briefly regain account access early Sunday, without the ability to post, only to lose access again later. That resulted from Tweetbot co-creator Paul Haddad swapping out the app’s API keys, but all of his keys were later revoked. That result “proves that this was intentional and we and others were specifically targeted,” Haddad wrote on Mastodon Sunday evening, as noticed by The Verge.

“I wouldn’t have swapped out the keys in the first place if there was even a shred of communication,” Haddad wrote.  “Figured if nothing else, this would push the issue. Oh well, on to smaller but greener pastures.”

Neither Twitter nor owner Elon Musk has mentioned the failure of third-party clients to connect. Twitter’s status page early Monday said that all systems were operational, with no past incidents listed as far back as January 2. “Enterprise” clients, such as business-minded apps that monitor Twitter engagement and track topics, appear to be functioning, as do some versions of third-party clients, like Twitterific for Mac.

Twitter has long kept third-party clients, which allow users and small teams to customize how they view, track, and engage with tweets, at arm’s length. Prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter asked developers not to make them, restricted its API, and took away push notifications and auto-refresh for the clients.

Musk’s ownership, which commenced with large-scale layoffs and has consistently seen the company rapidly changing policy and making its intent hard to decipher, led some industry watchers and tech pundits to wonder if the third-party API shutdown was simply an infrastructure failure that the company couldn’t quickly fix.

But a more likely explanation involves ad revenue. By way of explaining his deep cuts across the company, Musk said in mid-December that Twitter was on track for a “negative cash flow of $3 billion.” The cash crunch largely seems due to the $1.5 billion debt servicing needed for Musk’s takeover debt, as well as drastically declining advertising revenue since his takeover. Twitter has been sued multiple times by landlords for lapsed rent.

Twitter recently changed its iOS app to default to a tab showing an algorithm-based “For You” feed, requiring users to regularly tap over to view a more reverse-chronological “Following” feed. Third-party clients have traditionally offered far more control over how users can sort their feeds—and, most notably, they don’t show Twitter’s “promoted” tweet advertising. The company has recently offered deeply incentivized advertising packages following drastic downturns in its ad sales.

We could not contact Twitter for comment, as its public relations and communications departments reportedly no longer exist. Musk’s latest tweet, just after midnight ET on January 16, is a lightly coded swipe at media as being quietly state-run.




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