This could be a big change.
According to various reports, Twitter is now blocking non-logged-in users from viewing any tweets, in an expanded effort to stop data scrapers from accessing tweet data.
NEWS: Twitter’s web version no longer allows users to browse without logging in. All urls redirect to the signup page.
This is believed to be a measure to make it harder for scrapers to take Twitter’s data, like ChatGPT’s web browsing plugin has been doing. pic.twitter.com/DbfuAWwS4p
— T(w)itter Daily News (@TitterDaily) June 30, 2023
Tweet embeds appear to be still working for now, and tweets are still appearing in Google Search, so there are still ways to see some tweets outside of the app, even without an active account. But it seems that Twitter’s taking more measures to force people to log in, while also limiting unauthorized third-party access.
Which could be specifically focused on one company in particular.
As noted by T(w)itter Daily News, there are indications that OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, has been accessing public tweet data, after Twitter cut it off from its API, due to the company’s use of tweets to fuel its generative AI models.
Twitter owner Elon Musk was an early investor in OpenAI, but after a falling out with its founders, he opted to step back from the project, and the company more broadly, and since then, OpenAI has developed a range of generative AI tools, which are now bringing in billions in business deals.
Musk has repeatedly complained that his initial investment in what was a non-profit has helped OpenAI establish its business, with no return for him.
OpenAI was created as an open source (which is why I named it “Open” AI), non-profit company to serve as a counterweight to Google, but now it has become a closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.
Not what I intended at all.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 17, 2023
Musk has also criticized ChatGPT as being ‘too woke’, which appears to have sparked his interest in building his own ‘TruthGPT’ generative AI model – and it’s this now adversarial relationship with OpenAI that seems to be influencing Twitter’s decisions on data access.
Twitter has already upped the price of its API access points, in response to Musk’s belief that OpenAI wasn’t paying enough, while it also now blocks non-logged-in users from searching tweets, another measure to restrict tweet data.
Now, Twitter seems to be taking an even more drastic step. And while it only applies to web users right now, Twitter will reportedly extend this new restriction to mobile users as well in the coming weeks.
So why is blocking non-logged-in users from viewing tweets such a big deal?
Because according to Twitter’s own EU disclosure, around 40% of users, in Europe at least, access the platform as ‘logged out guests’.
That means that Twitter is counting these as users, which could have a big impact on overall platform usage.
Also interesting to note this description on Twitter’s EU disclosure site:
“Twitter makes most of its content accessible to non-authenticated users. Persons without a Twitter account, or logged-out Twitter users, are able to access most content on Twitter.com without being required to log in. This accessibility is fundamental to Twitter’s mission to serve the public conversation and help ensure the freedom of expression and access to information of its users.”
Maybe not so fundamental anymore.
Of course, this is EU only data, but if that’s at all indicative of how people in other regions also access tweets, that could spark a big shift, which could reduce Twitter’s role in the broader news eco-system.
At the same time, it could also force more people to sign up, and maybe that’s what Elon and Co. are banking on, that people who are used to accessing tweets without logging in will now be so reliant on that info that they’ll sign-up en-masse, bringing in a heap more monetizable daily actives for its business.
Either way, it’s a big move, which could have broader impacts.
UPDATE: In response to criticism of the move, Elon Musk now says this is a temporary measure.
Temporary emergency measure. We were getting data pillaged so much that it was degrading service for normal users!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 30, 2023
I’m not sure that it was temporary before Twitter realized the potential impact.