Reports: Sudden Blocks of Third-Party Twitter Clients Were Intentional

Enlarge / Twitter blocks many third-party clients from accessing its API while continuing to provide no explanation.

Ryan J. Lane/Getty Images

Twitter has yet to explain why third-party clients like Twitterific and Tweetbot stopped working late last week. But a new report and tests by an 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 resolving outages with product partners, was told by a product marketing executive that Twitter had “started working on communications,” but that there was no delivery date, according to The Information’s report.

Some Tweetbot users appeared to briefly regain access to the account early on Sunday, with no ability to post, only to lose access again later. This resulted from Tweetbot co-creator Paul Haddad swapping the app’s API keys, but all of his keys were later revoked. This result “proves that it was intentional and that we and others were specifically targeted,” Haddad wrote on Mastodon Sunday night, as noted by The Verge.

“I wouldn’t have exchanged the keys in the first place if there had been even an ounce of communication,” Haddad wrote. “I thought at least that would push the issue. Well, to smaller but greener pastures.”

Neither Twitter nor owner Elon Musk mentioned the failure of third-party clients to connect. Twitter’s status page said Monday morning that all systems were operational, with no past incidents listed since January 2. certain versions of third-party clients, such as Twitterific for Mac.

Twitter has long kept third-party clients, which allow users and small teams to customize how they view, follow and interact with tweets, remotely. Prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter instructed developers not to create them, restricted its API, and removed push notifications and auto-refresh for customers.

Musk’s ownership, which began with large-scale layoffs and constantly saw the company quickly change policy and make its intent hard to decipher, has led some industry watchers and tech pundits to question whether the The third-party API shutdown was simply an infrastructure failure that the company couldn’t quickly fix.

But a more likely explanation has to do with ad revenue. To explain his deep cuts to the business, Musk said in mid-December that Twitter was on track for “negative $3 billion cash flow.” The cash crunch appears largely due to the $1.5 billion debt service needed for Musk’s buyout debt, as well as the drastic drop in ad revenue since his takeover. Twitter has been repeatedly sued by landlords over lapsed rent.

Twitter recently changed its iOS app to default to a tab displaying an algorithm-based “For You” feed, requiring users to tap regularly to see a more reverse-chronological “Following” feed. Third-party clients have traditionally offered much more control over how users can sort their feeds, and most notably, they don’t display advertising on Twitter’s “promoted” tweets. The company recently offered heavily incentivized ad packages following drastic declines in ad sales.

We were unable to contact Twitter for comment as its public relations and communications services no longer exist. Musk’s last tweet, just after midnight ET on January 16, is a lightly coded sweep on media as quietly run by the state.

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