Recently, one of Twitter’s business partners announced that it had been contacted by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and planned to comply with the agency’s request for information. The company, UberMedia, develops software which helps users access and organize Twitter content through smart phones and desktop computers. While the FTC has not disclosed the scope of its inquiry, sources familiar with the investigation say that the FTC suspects Twitter of pressuring UberMedia and other partners which have developed features Twitter wants to offer itself, in a way that harms competition. Over time, Twitter has purchased some developers, and the company recently asked its existing developers to refrain from imitating Twitter’s own mobile device applications and web interface, in the interest of standardizing the user experience.
Although the nature of the investigation remains to be seen, marketers should be aware that a company’s business relationship with an app developer may not merely be a contract issue between the two parties; in some cases, it can give rise to concern from a regulatory agency about whether consumer choice is being impacted.