The Life of a Programmer


Too big too care: How Twitter inadvertently revoked my developer access

If a company has enough users they don’t have to care about any of them. Plus or minus one developer account, even with thousands of users, will make no difference. It may seem like a fine business decision, but it’s extremely frustrating to those trying to use the service. This is a tale of my attempts to create a new application on Twitter. Ultimately I’ve failed.

This is a good account to support my position in The dangers of OAuth. My ability to provide Twitter login has been severely restricted. Twitter has obviously not intended to block my access, but they have. It’s just one experience, but it does bring me to question whether Twitter is a suitable choice for authorization of any application.

Post-Testing troubles

For my puzzle game I decided to offer Twitter and Facebook login. I setup my test applications on both systems and got everything working locally. It went very quickly in both cases and I was quite happy with the results.

I added a live application for Facebook and tested it. It worked the first time so I was quite happy. I had started with Facebook since it is the more complicated of the two. I was hoping to do Twitter quickly afterwards.

I went to my Twitter developer account though and had a problem. I couldn’t create a new application. I got a message saying a mobile number was required for my account. Initially I was just annoyed. I dislike this trend of providing mobile numbers everywhere. In this case though it is perhaps okay; developers are not standard users. It’s fair to require extended contact information, or identification, if you wish to create an application that uses Twitter.

Alas, the number failure

I added my mobile number. Well, I attempted to add my mobile number. My first try just got a bunch of failure messages. I assumed the system had a temporary issue and tried again the next day.

This time I got a message saying activation could not be done via the web and I must use a long method to activate my phone. I was lead to a page with several steps of sending messages via SMS. These include my account name and password, which seems kind of like a security issue. All of this to no avail. I got no response from Twitter and my account still lacked a mobile number.

I tried again the next day via the web form. Now my number is apparently already in use, and for a different account. I was presented with instructions on how to end the Twitter account via SMS. I just have to send the “BEENDEN” text to “89338” (note that I’m in Germany). Seems simple, except the short number doesn’t work with my provider, though my provider was in the list.

I didn’t wish to delay the release of my game. I converted my test application to be to the live application. I continued with my pursuit since I’d really like a way to test, and possibly even create other applications in the future. I also wanted to make sure I wouldn’t eventually lose access entirely by not having a verified mobile number.

Off to the support desert

Something seemed broken at this point so I thought contacting support would be a good option. It wasn’t. Twitter’s support has a lot of documents about very basic account issues. It looks okay if that’s the type of problem you’re having, but I wasn’t having those problems.

The “Contact” link is also one of those that leads to more help documents. They try very hard to prevent you from getting a real person as support. The problem I was having wasn’t covered in any of their topics so I picked a closely related one, and finally got to a form. I diligently filled it out with my information and my problem.

In due course I got an email reply directing me back to the help pages. I had the option of replying if they don’t solve my problem. I replied and didn’t hear back for several days. Eventually I got an email with this delightful sentence, “We’ve taken a look at your account and it looks like this issue might be resolved.” If not, I was to return to the help documents.

Before submitting another request I checked for some kind of premium support. I could not find any. This is perhaps a warning sign for me as a developer. Obviously I have no users at the moment, but what if I actually have a successful application and then something goes wrong?

I found another support form and sent a request. I’ve not received a response to this request.

Trying it again myself

I tried the registration steps again and failed. In the process I found two new ways that might be able to help me. The first is a feature that identifies the account of a mobile number. I’d just enter my number and get a password via SMS. I could then login and cancel my account. I’m not even sure how I found this page, since I can’t find it again now. I entered my phone number and got a success message. I never received an SMS though.

I noticed another approach. If I logout of my Twitter account and choose “Forgot password” I’m able to enter a mobile number. I did this. It didn’t work but I finally got a message about what the problem might be, “We can’t send text messages to your phone.”

Does this mean that my carrier is not supported (though it was in the settings list)? I’d contemplated using a different number, but now I don’t know if that would work either. I’m also not so keen on having a different number, I really shouldn’t need one. If they do actually send important messages I would want them on a phone that I regularly use.

I actually tried another service to get temporary SMS numbers here. That service however could not send to the short code which Twitter provides. It’s an indication at least that the problems with mobile and Twitter are not limited to my account.

Fragmented service

This type of adventure can reveal a lot about how a service is designed. It’s clear that I’ve gone through the work of many distinct development groups, likely both regional and focus driven. There’s a decided lack of clarity in errors and a certain amount of misinformation in the support documents. Even the requirement for a mobile number doesn’t seem to consider the global state of their mobile offering. There’s a good chance that even if I could contact a support person that they would be unable to do anything.

I don’t have enough Twitter followers or users for my account to be of any consequence. I have no ability to correct my situation. I will simply be unable to use Twitter login or create new applications. It’s interesting that this coincides with my article about the dangers of social login). There’s clearly no malicious intent here, but a much more mundane quality issue. Twitter simply broke on me, and it doesn’t appear they care.

Please join me on Discord to discuss, or ping me on Mastadon.

Too big too care: How Twitter inadvertently revoked my developer access

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