Twitter under FTC probe, Business Insider reports

Feds looking into how microblogging company deals with makers of third-party apps, services

Are federal investigators looking into whether Twitter is strong-arming or trying to kill off third-party providers of apps and services for its microblogging platform?

That's what Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson and Dan Frommer are reporting Thursday afternoon.

(Also see: Is Twitter really worth more than $4 billion?)

According to their story, Twitter began hinting in the spring of last year that rather than continue allowing independent developers to provide Twitter users with applications such as management platforms, mobile applications and photo-sharing services, the company would begin supplying in-house apps for users.

Over the following year, Twitter followed-up on its promise. It acquired third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetie and TweetDeck, blessing them as "official" Twitter apps. Twitter also redesigned Twitter.com so that third-party video and photo-hosting sites no longer linked to off-Twitter sites, but kept users on Twitter. Twitter also banned third-party ad services.

One could argue that the microblogging service's goal was to provide some order to the Twitterverse and make things less confusing for users.

But one also could argue that Twitter's motive was less noble. From what Business Insider writes, Silicon Valley Internet entrepreneur Bill Gross might fall into the latter camp.

After launching a Twitter search engine called TweetUp (now known as UberMedia) early in 2010, Gross went on a Twitter app buying spree, according to Business Insider:

Eventually, his company got funding from Accel (Partners) with the idea that the money would be used to buy TweetDeck. It sort of looked like Gross might be planning to launch a Twitter competitor – or at least string his Twitter clients into their own monetized network.

TweetDeck is the most popular independent Twitter application. Make that "was" the most popular independent Twitter application, because just a few weeks ago Twitter bought TweetDeck for $40 million to $50 million. This, after UberMedia reportedly had a deal locked up in February to buy TweetDeck for $25 million to $30 million.

In addition, Twitter temporarily shut down several of its apps, presumably causing grief to Gross and UberMedia.

Is Twitter just playing hardball or playing unfairly? That's the question the FTC reportedly is trying to answer. Stay tuned.

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