July 1, 2011 1:28 am

Regulators probe Twitter’s handling of app developers

US regulators have begun an investigation into whether Twitter has unfairly disadvantaged other developers who had built businesses by tapping into its global audience, according to a person familiar with the review.

The study follows a turbulent period in the relations between the internet messaging service and companies that make Twitter applications and “clients”, or software for PCs and smartphones that Twitter’s members use to access the service.

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The company drew protests from some of its developers a year ago when it first indicated it planned to create more of the applications for its users that had previously been produced by outsiders. This year, it also warned developers of Twitter clients that it wanted to play a more central role in providing that key piece of software.

The Federal Trade Commission has held fact-finding meetings with developers to look at how Twitter manages its relations with companies that have tried to build services and apps around its ecosystem, according to the person familiar with the discussions.

The agency has become more aggressive in looking at the relationship between other popular technology platforms and applications developers. Last year, pressure from the FTC prompted Apple to reverse course on two new terms it had set out for iPhone developers.

While neither the agency nor Apple confirmed talks between the two, people familiar with the matter said at the time that FTC concerns were behind the company’s decision to let outside programmers use tools made by Adobe Systems and to let them share information with rival advertising networks.

The discontent in the Twitter case spilt over publicly in February after the company blocked a number of client applications that relied on a “feed” of its tweets, notably UberTwitter, UberCurrent and Twidroyd, all owned by Los Angeles-based Ubermedia.

Bill Gross, Ubermedia’s chief executive, said Twitter had suspended the apps because they allowed people to write more than 140 characters, they were changing web addresses to their own links and were using Twitter in their name.

Other developers speculated at the time that Mr Gross’s boasts that he would be able to make more money from the Twitter service than the company itself may have antagonised Twitter executives and provoked their action.

Twitter declined to comment.

Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic, a widely used Twitter client, said on Tuesday: “The opportunity around Twitter is not open.” He said he had shifted the focus of his service away from Twitter after its change of technology direction last year.

“It’s been a succession of them making it very public that they don’t want clients anymore, so how much more explicit can you be than that?” Mr Le Meur said. “I think you cannot compete with your main partner, that’s what it comes to.”

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