FTC reportedly investigating Twitter

FTC won't confirm, but report says government is launching anti-competitive probe

The Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into Twitter, according to a report from the Business Insider website.

The FTC is reportedly looking into the way Twitter handles companies that build applications and services for its microblogging platform, according to Business Insider.

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Neither the FTC nor Twitter would verify an investigation or comment in any way on the situation.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said he's not surprised that the FTC would turn its attention to Twitter, since it's a growing, high-profile company.

"Young and fast-growing companies thrive on attention, except when it's from the FTC," he said. "But when that young company controls a whole category of applications and has made some moves to deny others the chance to live in their ecosystem, it's bound to get some scrutiny sooner or later. Looks like it's sooner in Twitter's case."

Olds added that there's a fine line between serving users better and denying potential competitors a piece of the pie. And, if there is an FTC probe underway, that may be the line the government is looking at.

"It's obvious that Twitter wants to bring more functionality onto their platform and add functionality for users," said Olds. "They've been buying up Twitter-based app developers, which is fine, but if they've also been denying apps access to the Twitter platform, that could potentially be judged as anti-competitive behavior. For users, it means a cool app might go away suddenly. For developers, they might just as suddenly find themselves without a business if their app can't use Twitter as a vehicle anymore."

The Business Insider report points to Twitter's redesigning its Web site so third-party photo and video-hosting sites can't link users to other sites. Instead, those users will stay directly on the Twitter.com site.

Twitter also has acquired some significant third-party sites, including TweetDeck and Tweetie, making their once-third-party apps official Twitter apps.

When Twitter acquired TweetDeck last month, the move came after months of speculation that UberMedia, which offers several popular Twitter applications of its own, was working on a deal of to scoop up TweetDeck.

In May, CNN.com reported that UberMedia had been working on creating its own microblogging service that would compete directly with Twitter. The thinking was that UberMedia wanted TweetDeck so its third-party Twitter tools would fill out its own tool box. However, Twitter was able to grab TweetDeck, and its popular tools, for its own platform.

If the FTC is investigating Twitter, it wouldn't be the microblogging site's first go-round with the federal agency. Mid-way through 2010, the company agreed to settle an FTC complaint concerning Twitter's privacy functions and security safeguards.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com. Read more about Web 2.0 and Web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

This story, "FTC reportedly investigating Twitter" was originally published by Computerworld.

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