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Twitter will give Elon Musk ‘firehose’ data access to settle bot complaints

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The Tesla CEO may get access to Twitter’s most valuable data source

Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge

Twitter is preparing to grant Elon Musk unprecedented access to platform data in an effort to address his concerns about automated accounts, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Citing a person familiar with the company’s thinking, the report says Twitter is preparing to give Musk access to the so-called “firehose” API that contains every tweet as it is posted.

In April, Musk legally committed to purchasing Twitter but has grown increasingly vocal about possible bot activity on the platform, in what some see as an effort to cancel or renegotiate the deal on more favorable terms.

In an SEC filing on Monday, the Tesla CEO accused Twitter of breaching the April agreement by not providing him sufficient data on automated accounts, rejecting the company’s offer to provide more detail on its internal studies of the issue.

“Twitter’s latest offer to simply provide additional details regarding the company’s own testing methodologies... is tantamount to refusing Mr. Musk’s data requests,” Musk’s representatives said in the filing. “At this point, Mr. Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement.”

Taken as a whole, Twitter’s firehose API shows what a user would see if they followed every account on Twitter — although the sheer volume of data is impossible to obtain or parse without automation. Nonetheless, it is one of the company’s most closely held resources, in part because of its value for ad-targeting and platform surveillance. Multiple companies and organizations have, or have had, access to the feed in real time, including MIT researchers and Google many years ago.

But while firehose data could be immensely valuable as raw material for a study on automated activity, the sheer scale of the data makes it unwieldy, and conducting a full study of automated activity would require significant time and resources. Nonetheless, providing the data will be politically useful as Twitter seeks to fend off Musk’s concerns and ensure that he honors the initial buyout deal.

Twitter is still confident the deal will proceed as planned. In an internal meeting reported by Bloomberg, a senior executive at Twitter assured employees that the deal was proceeding normally and set for a shareholder vote in late July or early August. Twitter stock continues to trade well below the $54.20 price set by Musk, reflecting market skepticism that the deal will go through as agreed.

Reached by The Verge, Twitter declined to comment on the Post report, but referred questions to a statement issued earlier this week in response to Musk’s SEC filing. “Twitter has and will continue to cooperatively share information with Mr. Musk to consummate the transaction in accordance with the terms of the merger agreement,” the statement reads. “We intend to close the transaction and enforce the merger agreement at the agreed price and terms.”

Update 2:29PM ET: Added details from Bloomberg report and prior Twitter statement.