Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, speaks with CNBC on May 16, 2023.

David A Grosjean | CNBC

Twitter accuses Microsoft Using social media company data in unauthorized and never disclosed ways.

Alex Spiro, partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and attorney for Twitter owner Elon Musk, sent a letter to Microsoft on Thursday outlining allegations, including that the software company “may have violated multiple provisions” of its agreement with Twitter over data use.

It is the latest spat among tech companies in the growing debate over who owns data that can be used to train artificial intelligence and machine learning software. New York times first reported On the message, a copy of which was acquired by CNBC.

After Musk led the October purchase of Twitter and named himself CEO, the company began charging for use of its Application Programming Interface (API), which enables developers to embed tweets into their software and services and access Twitter data.

The API was previously free to use for some researchers, partners, and developers who agreed to Twitter’s terms. Apps that rely on the Twitter API include Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Sprinklr.

According to the letter Spiro sent to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, and the company’s board of directors, Microsoft “last month refused to pay even a reduced price for continued access to Twitter’s APIs and content.”

As of April, Spiro writes, Microsoft had at least five products using the Twitter API, including the Azure cloud, the Bing search engine, and Power Platform’s low-code app development tools.

The agreement restricts excessive use of the Twitter APIs. However, for a Microsoft service that uses Twitter data, “the account information explicitly states that it intends to allow its customers to ‘get around the restrictions imposed’,” Spiro wrote.

A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged receipt of the letter and told CNBC that the company will review it and “respond appropriately.”

“Today we heard from a law firm representing Twitter with some questions about our past use of the free Twitter API,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with the company.”

Musk has publicly criticized Microsoft’s close relationship with OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot. Musk was an early supporter of OpenAI, but the company has since amassed billions of dollars from Microsoft, which is embedding its AI technology in several core products.

“Microsoft has a very strong opinion, if not direct control, of OpenAI at this point,” Musk told CNBC in an interview this week. Nadella recently challenged Musk’s claim in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, saying that Microsoft has a “non-controlling interest” in the startup.

Spiro doesn’t name OpenAI or mention implementations of ChatGPT, DALL-E, or large language models in the message. He pressed Microsoft for any details on “a description of any token pooling implemented in any Microsoft application, including the time period(s) in which any token pooling occurred and the number of tokens collected.”

Musk and Nadella have had other interactions recently.

Last year, Musk called Nadella because he was raising money for his buyout on Twitter, according to text messages released through court filings. “Will definitely follow up on Teams comments!” Nadella wrote in one text to Musk. Teams is the chat app from Microsoft.

Read the full letter from Twitter to Microsoft, here.


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