Battle of the Giants: Twitter Alleges Microsoft Abused Its Data Access

Twitter has alleged that Microsoft misused the data it had access to on the platform. That much was since leveled against the tech giant by a lawyer acting on behalf of Elon Musk. The social media company has also demanded an audit of Microsoft.

Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro sent a letter addressed to Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. The three-page missive listed what appears to be a series of alleged infractions. These were all reportedly committed by the software giant.

According to the letter, Microsoft overused its ability to get information from Twitter. It stated that the company’s products retrieved more than 26 billion tweets in 2022. The amount of data used was then described as abusive or excessive.

The data was allegedly retrieved by Azure, Bing, and the Xbox One. The letter also mentioned Microsoft Ads and Power Platform among the culprits.

The letter explained they recently assessed Microsoft’s activity on the Microsoft Apps. Twitter then discovered that Microsoft might have violated many Developer Agreement provisions.

It also enumerated other supposed violations. This included a discernable failure to provide a reason for the company’s collecting of data. It also claimed that there were cases the data was also used for “automation capabilities.” This is subject to Twitter’s restrictions.

The letter from Twitter and its allegations are not a surprise. Musk tweeted the short message “lawsuit time” back in April. The Twitter owner had also accused Microsoft of using Twitter’s data in an illegal way. He said the tech company used the information gathered to develop AI systems. Musk even singled out OpenAI and ChatGPT.

Despite Musk’s previous outright accusations, the letter skirted around the issue. It pointed out that Microsoft’s contract with them prohibited its overuse of the company’s data. For instance, Microsoft should not exceed its reasonable request volume. The company also had limited access to tweets with “excessive or abusive usage.”

Spiro noted that Microsoft was still able to secure over 26 billion tweets last year. This was despite the Agreement’s limitations. There was no context given for the numbers though.

The procedure for training AI systems does need vast amounts of data. This can be in written text. AI algorithms then search for patterns. This is then used by the AI to understand the language. It also helps the program assess huge bodies of information.

Some aspects of the letter were in essence a list of vague allegations. In one instance, Twitter said Microsoft had to inform the company about how it intended to use the data. But it failed to provide information on six of the eight apps Microsoft used.

It also stated that one Microsoft app provided data to many virtual locations. The locations referenced a government agency or entity. This is reportedly a clear violation of Microsoft’s agreement with Musk’s company. The demand letter stated it prohibits the retrieval of data for government entities. The company must first notify Twitter of its intentions. But Microsoft failed to notify them of this specific action.

Spiro’s letter demanded Microsoft give a detailed description of the Twitter data it has. It also wants information on data it has already destroyed. It also wants to know the purpose of the apps that gathered data from Twitter. The company also wanted details on the government entities using Microsoft apps. They also want to know if they also got data from Twitter’s database.

A spokesman for Microsoft has already commented on the issue. Chief Communications Officer Frank Shaw stated Microsoft will go over the letter. He said the company will review the questions Twitter raised. He gave assurance they will respond in an appropriate manner.

Shaw also said that Microsoft is still looking forward to its “long-term partnership.” The company wasn’t referred to by name but most assumed Shaw meant Twitter. The communications expert also declined to discuss the specific issues.

The timing of the issue has caused some raised eyebrows. The letter surfaced as Musk and Twitter work to develop ways to increase their revenue. Musk is also known to be cutting down costs after taking on significant debt to finance his Twitter deal. Musk was then reported to have spent $44 billion to get the popular social media platform.

Microsoft has already refused to pay Twitter for data access. The Redmond-based company was using Twitter’s application programming interface. The API gave it access to the database. Spiro’s letter revealed Twitter has established a paywall. This aims to charge companies for the data. It’s the basis behind the letter’s call for Microsoft to give information. Especially about its use of Twitter’s API these last two years. Twitter has given Microsoft until June 7 to comply.

Shaw acknowledged that Microsoft has heard from a law firm hired by Twitter. He admitted there were concerns about their past use of Twitter’s API. He noted that it was free at the time.

Twitter announced early this year its plans to charge companies for access to its API. It was later revealed that companies would have to pay around $210,000 a month for this privilege. Microsoft’s advertising platform had a negative reaction to this. It later announced it wouldn’t support integration with Twitter anymore.

Musk has been quite vocal about his criticisms of Microsoft these past few months. The multinational tech company is reportedly Twitter’s rival. Especially in the development of artificial intelligence. It’s an arena that depends on using online content that’s available to the public. A prime example of this content is tweets.

It was after Microsoft’s refusal to pay for the API that Musk accused Microsoft of using Twitter to train its AI.