Nov 28, 2022 - Technology

Musk threatens war with Apple

Elon Musk tweet showing a fork in a road with a sign reading "pay 30%" one way and "Go to War" the other

Image: Twitter

Elon Musk on Monday fired off a series of tweets aimed at Apple for allegedly threatening "to withhold Twitter from its App Store" and for pulling most of its ad spend on Twitter.

Why it matters: The tweets are part of a broader narrative Musk is trying to paint that Apple is a monopoly and uses its power to censor voices and charge "a secret 30% tax" on transactions in its App Store.

  • Musk has used a similar playbook to put pressure on advertisers that have threatened to pull ad dollars from Twitter in recent weeks, alleging they are trying to "destroy free speech."

Details: On Monday, Musk asked in a tweet if Apple hates "free speech in America?" for mostly stopping advertising on Twitter.

  • In another series of tweets, Musk called out Apple's 30% cut of transactions through its app store — a long-standing arrangement that has also sometimes raised objections from other tech companies and has been the subject of a major lawsuit between Apple and Epic Games.
  • Musk said last week that he would build his own smartphone if Apple pulled Twitter from its app store for violating its rules. But doing so would take enormous resources and time.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on Musk's complaints.

Be smart: As Musk tries to drum up engagement on Twitter and fulfill his promises to reduce the platform's limits on speech, he has shown that he's not afraid to alienate two of his most important business stakeholders: App stores that distribute Twitter and advertisers that fund it.

  • More than half of smartphone users in the U.S. use Apple devices.
  • The vast majority of Twitter's revenue comes from advertising.
  • New data from MediaRadar, an advertising intelligence firm, finds that Apple has spent nearly $40 million on Twitter ads this year.

Between the lines: Google, like Apple, enforces content moderation policies for app eligibility in its Google Play store (which serves Android devices), but as of now, the company has yet to contact Twitter about any potential violations or issues, a source told Axios.

The big picture: Musk isn't the first Big Tech executive to go after Apple, alleging it misuses its market power.

  • Companies like Meta and Spotify have also recently called out the iPhone maker for its app store policies.

What to watch: Apple has shown no reluctance to ban apps, including several that cater to far-right users, if it determines that they do not operate effective content moderation policies to screen child sex abuse materials, threats to personal safety and other objectionable content.

  • If Twitter's scaled-back content moderation team and chaotic new policies lead to more such content making it past the service's filters, all eyes will be on Apple.
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