API rate limits at the core of Elon Musk’s decision to ditch Twitter

Claims he got less access to data than paying customers and was forced to endure the indignity of a PDF

A dispute over API rate limits lies at the heart of Elon Musk’s decision to bail out of his planned acquisition of Twitter.

Musk has made several public statements regarding his desire to know how many Twitter accounts are run by bots or are otherwise inauthentic, as he feels the number of dodgy accounts impacts the company's value. The billionaire therefore sought information on Twitter's methods of detecting and handling fake accounts before closing the deal.

One of the documents [PDF] Twitter filed after Musk pulled the plug includes a letter from Musk's lawyers that details those efforts to source information.

Those APIs contained a rate limit lower than Twitter provides to its enterprise customers

One segment of the document claims that Musk and his team sought "a variety of board materials, including a working, bottom-up financial model for 2022, a budget for 2022, an updated draft plan or budget, and a working copy of Goldman Sachs' valuation model underlying its fairness opinion."

"Twitter has provided only a pdf copy of Goldman Sachs' final Board presentation."

Other disclosures, the document states, "come with strings attached, use limitations or other artificial formatting features, which has rendered some of the information minimally useful to Mr. Musk and his advisors.

"For example, when Twitter finally provided access to the eight developer 'APIs' first explicitly requested by Mr. Musk in the May 25 Letter, those APIs contained a rate limit lower than what Twitter provides to its largest enterprise customers.

"Twitter only offered to provide Mr. Musk with the same level of access as some of its customers after we explained that throttling the rate limit prevented Mr. Musk and his advisors from performing the analysis that he wished to conduct in any reasonable period of time.

"Additionally, those APIs contained an artificial 'cap' on the number of queries that Mr. Musk and his team can run regardless of the rate limit – an issue that initially prevented Mr. Musk and his advisors from completing an analysis of the data in any reasonable period of time," the document states.

Musk and his team raised the issue of query limits on June 29, but Twitter did not change the limit until July 6 – after Musk asked for its removal a second time.

Not responding to the electric vehicle, tunnelling, AI, spaceborne internet access, tequila, and rocketry entrepreneur's requests for better access to API-delivered data added up to a situation in which Musk felt Twitter was in breach of the merger agreement.

So he pulled the plug, leaving open the questions of why Twitter might have provided only limited access to its APIs, or why it could not offer more access given it operates at significant scale.

If the decision was a tactic, it will doubtless become something for courts to consider – and Twitter's chairman Bret Taylor has already indicated the avian network intends to have the Delaware Court of Chancery hear the matter so the deal can be done.

Musk, for his part, spent the weekend tweeting about his space internet venture Starlink and suggesting that the twin children he acknowledged last week were part of his efforts to address humanity's population crisis. ®

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