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Twitter tightens developer policies to fight spam before it starts

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Twitter is getting strict with developers.
Twitter is getting strict with developers.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Twitter is taking aggressive steps to curb one of the biggest sources spammy and abusive tweets.

The social media company announced new restrictions on how developers can use its API, which could severely curtail shady developers’ ability to exploit Twitter’s developer tools. At the same time, the company has finally agreed to work with the developers of popular third-party Twitter clients so they can keep their apps up and running.

Abuse of Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), the software that lets developers hook their apps into Twitter, has been rampant for years, though the company tried to clamp down on the issue in recent months. (Twitter first imposed its new, stricter developer policies in March.) The company says it has removed more than 143,000 apps between April and June of this year alone. That’s in addition to the 142,000 apps it yanked during the first quarter of the year. These apps have been responsible for more than 130 million of “low quality” tweets, according to Twitter.

Now Twitter is hoping to cut down on spammy tweets even more. Among the new restrictions: developers who want to access Twitter’s API will now need to apply (and be approved) for a developer account before they can begin accessing the company’s tools. Eventually, even developers who already have access to Twitter’s API will also need to create a developer account to maintain access.

In addition, Twitter says apps will face more scrutiny if developers change how their app is using its API. Developers will also be limited to only ten apps per account.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the company is imposing new limits on how much third-party apps can post, like, retweet, and send direct messages. Under the new limits, apps won’t be able to push out more than 300 tweets an hour, regardless of how many users they have. These measures should go a long way toward reducing spam, but they’ll likely also be a big headache to legit developers who want wider access to Twitter, such as Twitter clients or businesses that use Twitter for customer support. 

These updates come with an eleventh-hour reprieve for some third-party developers, who faced an uncertain future after Twitter announced stricter developer rules. In April, a contingent of developers behind some of the most popular third-party Twitter clients, such as Tweetbot and Twitterific, banded together to publicly lobby Twitter to not “break” their apps. 

That’s because Twitter’s new anti-spam developer rules would also the effect of limiting their API access, effectively “breaking” their apps. After months of relative silence on the issue — a Twitter rep declined to answer questions about the service’s commitment to third-party clients in April — the company has finally confirmed it’s working on a solution.

According to a Twitter spokesperson, the company has been working with some of the most popular Twitter clients on exemptions from the API limits. It’s not clear how this process will work, but it should come as a relief to the affected developers.

As for the thousands of other developers who use Twitter’s APIs, the company’s once-lax policies are changing soon. The new developer registration rule goes into effect today, and the limits on posting, retweeting, and direct messaging take effect on September 10, 2018.

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