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Twitter Accuses Microsoft of Improperly Using Its Data


Twitter on Thursday sent a letter to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, accusing the tech giant of improperly using the social media company’s data.

In the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, Twitter said Microsoft had violated an agreement over its data and had declined to pay for that usage. In some cases, the letter said, Microsoft had used more Twitter data than it was supposed to. Microsoft also shared the Twitter data with government agencies without permission, the letter said.

“Microsoft may have been in violation of multiple provisions of the agreement for an extended period of time,” Alex Spiro, the personal lawyer for Elon Musk, who owns Twitter, wrote in the letter to Mr. Nadella.

The letter may be a prelude to Twitter trying to charge Microsoft for its data. Mr. Musk, who bought Twitter last year for $44 billion, has said that it is urgent for the company to make money and that it is near bankruptcy. Twitter has since introduced new subscription products and made other moves to gain more revenue. In March, the company said it would charge more for developers to gain access to its stream of tweets.

Last month, Mr. Musk publicly called out Microsoft for “illegally” using Twitter’s data to train its artificial intelligence technologies. “Lawsuit time,” he tweeted at the time.

Microsoft said it did not currently pay Twitter for its data. Frank Shaw, a Microsoft spokesman, said the company had received Twitter’s letter and would review the questions and respond. “We look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with the company,” he said.

Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Musk and Microsoft have had a bumpy relationship recently. Among other things, Mr. Musk has feuded with Microsoft over OpenAI, the start-up behind the ChatGPT chatbot. Mr. Musk, who helped found OpenAI in 2015, has said Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, controls the start-up’s business decisions. Microsoft has disputed that characterization.

Last month, Microsoft also said it would not pay for access to Twitter’s data and told customers of its advertising platform that it would remove Twitter from the platform. Advertisers use Microsoft’s ad platform to manage their social media accounts, including Twitter.

In recent months, Twitter and other organizations have also started to complain that the latest wave of A.I. technologies were built using their digital data. Reddit said last month that it would begin charging for access to its application programming interface, or API, so that its data could not be used for free.

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot and OpenAI’s ChatGPT are built from what are called large languages models, or L.L.M.s, which build their skills by analyzing vast amounts of data culled from across the internet.

In December, Mr. Musk cut off OpenAI from Twitter’s data. OpenAI had paid $2 million a year for access to the data, but Mr. Musk believed the amount was not enough to fairly compensate Twitter.

The letter to Mr. Nadella does not specify if Twitter will take legal action against Microsoft or ask for financial compensation. It demands that Microsoft abide by Twitter’s developer agreement and examine the data use of eight of its apps.

Twitter also said Microsoft must submit a report by June on how much Twitter data the company possesses, how that data was stored and used, and when government-related organizations gained access to that data. Twitter’s rules prohibit the use of its data by government agencies, unless the company is informed about it first.

The letter adds that Twitter’s data was used in Xbox, Microsoft’s gaming system; Bing, its search engine; and several other tools for advertising and cloud computing.

Twitter imposes limits on how much of its data can be used, saying that access cannot exceed a “reasonable” volume. But Microsoft used Twitter’s data portal “over 780 million times and retrieved over 26 billion tweets in 2022 alone,” the letter said.




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