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Twitter to provide spam data to Elon Musk as part of deal

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After a weeks-long impasse, Twitter’s board plans to comply with Elon Musk’s demands for internal data by offering access to its full “firehose,” the massive stream of data comprising more than 500 million tweets posted each day, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the state of negotiations.

The move aims to end a standoff with the billionaire, who has threatened to pull out of his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter unless the company provides access to data he says is necessary to evaluate the number of fake users on the platform.

The information could be provided as soon as this week, the person said. Currently some two dozen companies pay for access to the trove, which comprises not only a real-time record of tweets but the devices they tweet from, as well as information about the accounts that tweet.

At Financial Times Future of the Car summit on May 10, the Tesla CEO said permanently banning then-President Donald Trump from Twitter was “flat-out stupid.” (Video: Financial Times)

Musk’s legal team contends the data stream is essential for understanding the amount of spam and bot activity on its platform, a figure that could influence the company’s ad revenue, according to a letter sent to Twitter on Monday.

Musk has said the deal is on hold until he secures the information, adding to speculation he’s trying to pull out or renegotiate his purchase for a lower price. When he signed his initial deal to buy the company in April, he waived a right to look deeply at Twitter’s finances and internal workings. The purchase agreement requires that Musk go through with the deal unless he can show the company mislead him or a major event has changed its value.

Elon Musk threatens to back out of Twitter deal over withholding data

Twitter’s leaders are skeptical of Musk’s ability to use the fire hose to find previously undetected information: The data stream has been available for years to the companies that pay Twitter for the ability to analyze it to find patterns and insights in the daily conversation. They, along with some analysts and Silicon Valley insiders, say that Musk is using the data requests as a pretext to wiggle out of the deal or to negotiate a lower price.

The spam activity is important to his team because if Twitter is underestimating spam on its service, the company’s estimates for how many users could be shown ads would be smaller, affecting revenue.

In the Monday letter addressed to Twitter’s general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, Musk’s lawyers accused Twitter of refusing to provide information about spam and fake accounts that the billionaire, who is the world’s richest man, has been requesting since May 9.

Musk “must have a complete and accurate understanding of the very core of Twitter’s business model — it’s active user base,” stated the lawyers from the firm Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. “Twitter’s latest offer to simply provide additional details regarding the company’s own testing methodologies, whether through written materials or verbal explanations, is tantamount to refusing Mr. Musk’s data requests.”

Twitter spokesman Scott Bisang referred The Washington Post to the company’s Monday statement. “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 said. “We believe this agreement is in the best interest of all shareholders. We intend to close the transaction and enforce the merger agreement at the agreed price and terms.”

Twitter’s challenges with bots and fake accounts have been around almost as long as the 16-year-old platform. For years, the company has reported that bots and spam account represent fewer than 5 percent of users on the service, a number the company has derived from extensive audits. But some outside researchers, based on their studies, suggest that percentage is actually much higher — perhaps double or triple the 5 percent figure.

Questions about bots are nothing new for Twitter

Musk began complaining about the bot issue soon after he agreed to acquire and take the company private for $44 billion in April. He has used his own massive Twitter megaphone to threaten to put the deal “on hold” and insisting the deal could not “move forward” until Twitter provided further proof of its methods for detecting spam.

Musk has committed more than $33 billion of his own wealth, which largely comes from his ownership of Tesla, to complete the deal. But as the stock market has been roiled by a global downturn, Tesla share values have plummeted, and some analysts have speculated that Musk has buyer’s remorse.

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