Twitter accuses Microsoft of using data in unauthorized ways

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks to CNBC on May 16, 2023.

David A Grogan | CNBC

Twitter accuses Microsoft of using the social media company’s data in ways that were unauthorized and never disclosed.

Alex Spiro, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and attorney for Twitter owner Elon Musk, sent a letter to Microsoft on Thursday outlining the claims, including that the software company “may have violated several provisions” of its agreement with Twitter over data usage.

It’s the latest rift among tech companies in the growing debate over who owns data that can be used to train artificial intelligence and machine learning software. The New York Times first reported on the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CNBC.

After Musk led a buyout of Twitter in October and appointed himself CEO, the company began charging for use of its application programming interface (API), which allows developers to embed tweets into their software and services and gain access to Twitter data.

The API was previously free to use for some researchers, partners and developers who accepted Twitter’s terms. Twitter API-powered apps include Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Sprinklr.

According to the letter from Spiro to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the company’s board, Microsoft last month declined to pay another discounted price for continued access to Twitter’s APIs and content.

As of April, Microsoft had at least five products that used the Twitter API, including the Azure cloud, the Bing search engine and Power Platform tools for low-code application development, Spiro wrote.

The agreement limits excessive use of Twitter’s programming interface. However, for one of the Microsoft services that uses Twitter data, “account information directly states that it intends to let its customers ‘go around the throat limits,'” Spiro wrote.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter and told CNBC that the company will review it and “respond appropriately.”

“Today we heard from a law firm representing Twitter with some questions about our past use of the free Twitter API,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with the company.”

Musk has been openly critical of Microsoft’s close relationship with OpenAI, the creator of the chatbot ChatGPT. Musk was an early supporter of OpenAI, but the company has since raised billions of dollars from Microsoft, which is building its AI technology into many core products.

“Microsoft has a very strong say in, if not directly controls, OpenAI at this point,” Musk told CNBC in an interview this week. Nadella recently challenged Musk’s claim in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, saying Microsoft has “a non-controlling interest” in the startup.

Spiro did not mention OpenAI or mention ChatGPT and DALL-E applications or major language models in the letter. He pressed Microsoft for details on, “a description of any token pooling implemented in any of the Microsoft apps, including the time period(s) when such token pooling took place and the number of tokens collected.”

Musk and Nadella have had other interactions recently.

Last year, Musk approached Nadella when he was raising money for the Twitter acquisition, according to text messages made public via court documents. Nadella wrote in a text to Musk, “will be sure to follow up on Team’s feedback!” Teams is Microsoft’s chat app.

Read the full letter from Twitter to Microsoft here.

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