Twitter restores free API access for emergency, weather and transportation alerts

Governments and public services will have access.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Twitter's decision to shut off its free API caused more than a few problems for public institutions that depend on the functionality, and the company is clearly ready to backtrack. The social network has restored free access to the app programming framework for verified government and publicly-owned services that use the tool for "critical purposes" such as emergency notifications, transportation updates and weather alerts.

The social media giant outlined a three-tier pricing strategy for its API in March. Normally, free access is limited to bots and testers that only need to write posts. It allows just 1,500 tweets per month and one app ID, which can be limiting for creators that need frequent updates. Basic access costs $100 per month with fixed caps on tweets, while businesses have to use multiple enterprise-level tiers to meet their needs. These can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month.

The shutoff broke numerous apps and services that relied on the free API for sharing and content streams, such as Flipboard's reader. It also created issues for developers willing to pay for access, including Echobox. While Twitter had warned that a cutoff was coming at some point, it didn't notify customers of the exact timing and did little to explain the impact.

Government services faced extra pain. New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would stop posting service alerts on Twitter after it faced a $50,000 per month fee for access. Microsoft also pulled Twitter from its social media tool for advertisers, and disabled Twitter screenshot sharing for Windows and Xbox gamers.

Twitter under Elon Musk's leadership has clamped down on previously free functionality in a bid to both control more of the experience and shift more of its revenue to subscriptions. It banned third-party clients, for example, and required a Blue membership for some verified checkmarks. This latest move is an acknowledgment that the strategy creates problems, particularly for governments eager to provide vital information through as many channels as possible.