Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Facebook is seeking to force a face-off with Apple over its 30% in-app purchase commission fee, which Facebook suggests hurts small businesses struggling to get by during the pandemic.

The big picture: Facebook has never publicly gone after Apple, a key strategic partner, this aggressively. Both companies face antitrust scrutiny, which in Apple's case has centered on the very fee structure Facebook is now attacking.

  • Between the lines: Facebook is trying to position itself as friendlier to small businesses than Apple, which also faces a lawsuit from Fortnite maker Epic Games over its commission and in-app payment restrictions.

What's happening: Facebook said Friday that it will launch "Paid Online Events" for small businesses in 20 countries around the world to charge Facebook users to attend their classes, instructions and other events.

  • The feature could be useful for any small business or individual offering a service, such a preacher, musician, yoga teacher or cooking instructor.
  • Facebook asked Apple to either waive its 30% cut or let Facebook go around it and process event payments via Facebook Pay, in either case letting event hosts keep all the revenue they generate. Apple declined, according to Facebook.
  • "Really what we're pushing on right now is to make sure all tech companies who can afford to do so join us in supporting small businesses," Fidji Simo, head of Facebook App, said on a press call Friday.

Of note: Hosts will be able to collect the full ticket price from Facebook users who attend their online events via the web or Android. Facebook says it is using its own payment system on Android and letting developers keep all the money.

The bottom line: Although this is Facebook's biggest assault on Apple yet, the two companies have sparred before.

  • Apple spent months rejecting iterations of Facebook's new gaming app before finally allowing it to publish a watered-down version to the App Store last week that only lets users stream and discuss games, not play them in-app.

Go deeper

Sep 29, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: Biden campaign blasts Facebook for "regression"

An image of the letter Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon sent Mark Zuckerberg.

On the eve of the first presidential debate, the Biden campaign is pressing Facebook to remove posts by President Trump — and slamming the social media company as "the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process."

Why it matters: By publicly escalating the conflict, the campaign is pressing Facebook to enforce its policies against misinformation more aggressively.

Axios roundtable on small business

On Thursday, September 24 Axios' Sara Fischer and Dan Primack hosted the first in a series of three virtual roundtables, featuring business leaders, innovators, and policy experts to discuss how small businesses have adapted to the COVID-19 economy, the role of digital tools, and the path forward.

Moderators highlighted a study recently by Connected Commerce Council that showed 93% of small businesses were affected by coronavirus in loss of revenue, loss of customer base, the inability to use brick and mortar facilities, or access to staff. Attendees unpacked small business needs in a time of crisis, the impact of the Paycheck Protection Program, and broader trends in entrepreneurship.

Trevor Parham, founder and director of Oakstop and co-founder of the Oakland Black Business Fund discussed how capital buys small businesses time to make better informed decisions:

  • "A big part of what businesses need is not just the capital and not just the education, but it's the resource of time...A big part of what businesses are lacking at the small business level, especially minority businesses, is they don't have the runway to contemplate what they want to do as their next strategic move where some other businesses might."

Aerica Shimizu Banks, founder at Shiso LLC highlighted the specific needs of Black and minority owned businesses:

  • "The SBA and government agencies are somewhat limited in targeting by race and therefore create race blind policies that have the unintended consequences of sometimes cementing inequity in the distribution of resources and loans."
  • "There is also a strong story of resilience here for business owners of color, for women-owned businesses, that despite these challenges in the midst of this crisis, what we're seeing is that particularly business owners of color have been making the best of this pandemic in converting to digital."

Sery Kim, assistant administrator at the US Small Business Administration, Office of Women's Business Ownership discussed the most common obstacle for women starting their own businesses.

  • "The number one barrier for women being entrepreneurs is not access to capital. It is childcare."

Emilia Dimenco, Women's Business Development Center president and CEO on what small businesses need during economically turbulent periods:

  • "They really need technical assistance. A large corporation would hire a major consulting firm to help them pivot, help them through a major change. A small business can't do that. [They need] quality advisory services, and financial and business acumen."

Thank you Google for sponsoring this event.

Sep 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Election influence operations target journalists

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Foreign and domestic actors looking to influence the 2020 election are trying to trick real reporters into amplifying fake storylines. This tactic differs from 2016, when bad actors used fake accounts and bots to amplify disinformation to the population directly.

Why it matters: The new strategy, reminiscent of spy operations during the Cold War, is much harder for big tech platforms to police and prevent.

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