Twitter Data Analytics Dipsute Picks Up Heat

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The social analytics service PeopleBrowsr insists that a state court should resolve its claims for continued access to Twitter’s full feed of data.
     PeopleBrowsr signed a contract with Twitter in mid-2010, requiring it to pay $1 million a year to have access to Twitter’s data feed, nicknamed the Firehose.
     With more than 340 million Twitter posts to sift through every day, PeopleBrowsr says it can offer clients meaningful observations and deep insight into the products and services that Twitter users describe in their posts.
     But Twitter put this service in jeopardy by threatening to cut PeopleBrowsr off from the Firehose on Nov. 30, 2012.
     PeopleBrowsr filed suit, claiming that Twitter lacked a valid business justification or explanation for the change.
     It says Twitter now hopes to dominate the lucrative data-analytics market.
     A week after PeopleBrowsr won a temporary restraining order, Twitter moved to dismiss. It said it merely exercised its right to terminate a one-year contract that has already gone on too long.
     “Twitter’s termination reflects its transition to a business model wherein companies like PeopleBrowsr contract with one of a few Twitter partners that provide tailored access to Twitter’s data, rather than receiving all data and directly from Twitter,” according to the motion authored by Durie Tangri attorney Michael Page. “But PeopleBrowsr refuses to change along with the evolving platform. Instead, it asks this Court to force Twitter to keep doing business with PeopleBrowsr on whatever terms PeopleBrowsr sees fit for as long as PeopleBrowsr sees fit. There is no basis for such relief.”
     Twitter said it has no obligation to stay in business with an “inflexible and undesirable partner.”
     “PeopleBrowsr wishes it had a longer contract, but it doesn’t,” Page wrote. “PeopleBrowsr wishes Twitter would enter into a new contract with it, presumably at the previous terms, but Twitter chooses to deal with others, and to deal with PeopleBrowsr through intermediaries, as it has the unquestionable right to do. The analysis ends there. PeopleBrowsr’s claims fail on their face, and no amount of creative antitrust-in-17200’s-clothing gymnastics can change that fact. The complaint should be dismissed.”
     PeopleBrowsr countered this motion Thursday, insisting that shutting off the Firehose will interfere with its business relationships and restrain competition.
     “Twitter’s threatened termination of PeopleBrowsr’s Firehose access is also inconsistent with Twitter’s repeated promises that the product it offered, and that PeopleBrowsr contracted for, was access to an ‘open ecosystem’ or ‘open platform,’ a widely used and well-understood internet business model under which PeopleBrowsr could compete without Twitter using data restrictions to control which developers would succeed,” according to the brief authored by Beatrice Nguyen with Crowell & Moring. “Though Twitter asserts that its contractual right to terminate without cause overrides these representations, there is no reason that Twitter could not simultaneously promise not to terminate data access for the purpose of restraining competition in markets using its data and reserve the right to terminate without having to demonstrate cause. Even an at-will termination clause does not allow termination for an improper purpose.” (Emphasis in original.)
     In the last year, PeopleBrowsr has allegedly met Twitter’s demands to divulge its business plan, innovations, contracts, clients and prospective clients.
     “After Twitter had extracted this valuable market information, Twitter gave formal notice of its intention to cut off PeopleBrowsr’s Firehose access,” Nguyen wrote.
     Twitter has “no valid business reason for the threatened termination of an agreement under which it receives over $1 million a year,” she added.
     “It has refused to identify any cost or burden supporting termination. Though Twitter suggests data access through resale partners is its new ‘standard for elevated data access,’ it continues to provide the Firehose directly to closely controlled partners, which it prohibits from providing the Firehose to others.”
     PeopleBrowsr also said the case should return to San Francisco County Superior Court.
     Twitter had previously removed the case from there to federal court, even though “the complaint alleges only state law claims and does not rely on – or even mention – federal law,” according to PeopleBrowsr’s brief.

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