Twitter suspends UberTwitter, Twidroyd, UberCurrent smartphone apps

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2011; 10:23 PM

Twitter shut off service to three popular applications for the micro-blogging service Friday morning, alleging privacy, trademark and marketing offenses.

All three smartphone programs - UberTwitter, Twidroyd and UberCurrent - come from the same company, Pasadena, Calif.-based UberMedia. The UberTwitter app, popular among BlackBerry users, was developed by an Ashburn resident.

A tech-support notice on Twitter's site said, "We have suspended UberTwitter and twidroyd for violating our policies."

Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner expanded on that in a statement. She said UberMedia's apps were guilty of violations of the San Francisco firm's programming rules, including "a privacy issue with private Direct Messages longer than 140 characters, trademark infringement, and changing the content of users' Tweets in order to make money."

UberMedia responded with a statement, attributed to founder and veteran tech entrepreneur Bill Gross, that said the firm had finished revising those programs to comply with Twitter's requests. It added, "Twitter has assured us that as soon as those changes were complete, they would reactivate our applications."

Gross provided a more detailed explanation on the Quora Q&A site, writing that UberMedia had yanked a feature that allowed a user to post an unusually long update via a third-party site and had disabled another that could change a shortened Web link shared in an update.

When asked to confirm UberMedia's account of an impending resolution, Penner sent a one-sentence reply: "Our actions will speak for themselves."

As of early Friday evening, the apps' suspension had not been lifted. A fourth UberMedia program for Twitter, Echofon, remained unaffected.

A copy of Twidroyd displayed only two messages from Twitter's account instead of a user's normal timeline of updates. The first advised readers of the suspension; the second suggested switching to Twitter's smartphone applications.

Gross's statement also said that UberMedia was changing UberTwitter's name to UberSocial on the request of Twitter. The company itself was called TweetUp until Twitter objected to its use of its trademarked term "tweet."

In a September blog post, Twitter credited UberTwitter with 2 percent of its total traffic. (Ninety-two percent comes through its standard and mobile Web sites, with the balance split among text messages and other Twitter applications). UberTwitter, available for Apple's iPhone as well as BlackBerry smartphones, has drawn some high-profile users, including pop singer Rihanna and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Ashburn resident Paul McDonald wrote the UberTwitter program in his spare time while he was working for a government contractor. UberMedia bought the app and hired McDonald in January. McDonald declined to comment.

Like many social media services, Twitter provides a Web interface and ships its own client applications but also invites other developers to write software that connects through a defined framework, or an application programming interface. Penner wrote that "on an average day we turn off more than one hundred services that violate our API rules of the road."

Twitter allows users to share their observations with other Twitter users, as well as the Web at large, in updates no longer than 140 characters. Founded in 2006, it now has nearly 200 million users, Penner wrote; a company blog update in late January said it posts more than 100 million tweets a day. The service has become a communications and marketing tool for companies, including The Washington Post.

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