Last week, PeopleBrowsr, a social analytics company, won a temporary restraining order preventing Twitter from terminating its long-standing access to the full firehose. At the time, Twitter said that it would vigorously defend itself based on “Contract 101” arguments, claiming that its agreement with PeopleBrowsr gave the platform every right to terminate access.
This week, however, Twitter has changed its position. On the eve of a December 4 discovery hearing, Twitter filed a ‘Notice of Removal’ to Federal Court, claiming instead that PeopleBrowsr’s action against Twitter “arises under federal antitrust law,” and as such should be decided in Federal Court.
The immediate result is to delay the case–and preserve PeopleBrowsr’s firehose access for the time being. A series of hearings will need to be scheduled, first to decide the issue of who has jurisdiction, then to determine a new court time table, then to hear a preliminary injunction in the appropriate jurisdiction. The entire process could take months, and, in the meantime, under 8 United States Code Section 1450, the existing temporary court order preserving PeopleBrowsr’s access–which Twitter had intended to cut off on November 30–will remain in effect.
PeopleBrowsr calls this latest development a “win” on two fronts: they get to keep firehose access, and they have support that for their argument that Twitter has unfairly taken advantage of its monopoly position in the industry. “Twitter’s inconsistent representations to the State and Federal Courts reinforce our case. Last week, they said this was a contracts issue. This week, it’s an antitrust issue, ” said PeopleBrowsr CEO Jodee Rich in a company blog post.
At the December 4 hearing, PeopleBrowsr had intended to file documents to depose Twitter co-founder Evan Williams along with a series of other senior Twitter executives, including Head of Business Development Doug Williams and Head of Mobile Business Development Kelton Lynn. The hearing would also have marked the beginning of the discovery process, in which PeopleBrowsr would have gained access to internal Twitter documents related to its firehose policy. A PeopleBrowsr spokesperson speculates that Twitter’s motion to move jurisdiction is a “strategic maneuver to postpone discovery.”
So it looks like this case may offer fuel for a debate over monopolies, competition and the appropriate levels of access to data and online services after all. In an era where Facebook controls the data of 1 billion users, Google dominates search and Amazon owns the cloud, this will be a very interesting story to follow.