Elon Musk claimed Monday that Apple had “threatened” to remove Twitter from its iOS app store, a move that could be devastating for the company Musk just acquired for $44 billion.
“Apple (AAPL) has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Musk said in one of several tweets Monday targeting Apple (AAPL) and its CEO over alleged moves which could undermine Twitter business.
In another tweet, Musk claimed that Apple has largely stopped advertising on Twitter. “Hate free speech in America,” he said, in an apparent reference to his often-voiced desire to strengthen his idea of free speech on the platform. “What’s going on here [Apple CEO Tim Cook]?” Musk added in a follow-up tweet. He also criticized apple’s size, claims it practices “censorship” and called out the 30% transaction fee that Apple charges major app developers to get listed in its App Store.
The tweetstorm highlights the tenuous relationship between Musk and Apple, who, along with Google, serve as the primary mobile application gatekeepers. Long before the Twitter acquisition, the Tesla CEO said that when the automaker was in trouble, he considered selling the company to Apple, but Cook refused to set up a meeting with him.
Removal from Apple’s App Store or Google’s would hurt Twitter’s business, which is already grappling with a loss of advertisers and a bumpy first attempt to grow its subscription business following its Musk acquisition.
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk’s tweets. The company has previously revealed that it’s willing to remove apps from its App Store over concerns about their ability to moderate harmful content or if they’re trying to circumvent the cut Apple is allowing from in-app purchases and takes subscriptions.
In January 2021, Apple removed Parler, an app popular with conservatives including some members of the far right, from its app store following the attack on the US Capitol over concerns about the platform’s ability to detect hate speech and incitement moderate. Parler was brought back to Apple’s App Store three months later after it updated its content moderation procedures.
In its official App Store review guidelines, Apple lists various security parameters that apps must meet to be accepted into the Store, including the ability to “prevent content that is offensive, insensitive, disturbing, repulsive, and exceptionally tasteless, or just creepy” like hate speech, pornography and terrorism. “If you want to shock and offend people, the App Store is not the place for your app,” the guidelines read.
Various civil society groups, researchers, and other industry observers have raised concerns about Twitter’s ability to effectively moderate malicious content and maintain the platform’s security following widespread layoffs and mass exits from the company. Musk has also claimed he wants to increase “freedom of speech” on the platform and has begun restoring some accounts that were previously banned or banned for repeatedly violating Twitter’s rules. Musk himself has shared a conspiracy theory and several other controversial tweets since becoming Twitter owner.
Musk, long a prolific and antagonistic tweeter, hasn’t slowed down since acquiring the company. And what it may have lost in revenue, he has claimed, it made up for in engagement. Part of the strategy appears to be relentlessly targeting enemies, either at him personally or at “free speech”.
In an interview with CBS earlier this month, Cook was asked if there were any ways Twitter could be changed that would cause Apple to remove it from the App Store. “They say they will continue to moderate, and that’s why… I’m counting on them to do that,” Cook replied. “Because I don’t think anyone really wants hate speech on their platform. So I’m counting on them to keep doing that.”
In an op-ed published in the New York Times last week, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, who left the company earlier this month, suggested that Twitter had already started doing so after acquiring Musk have been receiving calls from app store operators. Roth said the company’s failure to comply with Google and Apple’s app store rules could be “catastrophic.”
And last weekend, the head of Apple’s App Store, Phil Schiller, turned off his Twitter account.
While the state of Apple’s relationship with Twitter is unclear, the iPhone maker started running Black Friday ads on the platform as recently as last Thursday, according to posts seen by CNN.
Many companies have cut digital advertising spend in recent months as the economy slows, and Twitter has likely only ever been a small part of Apple’s advertising budget. However, Apple’s impact on Twitter could be far more significant, even if Musk manages to shift its core business to one that relies more heavily on subscription revenue and potentially pays a 30% cut to Apple.
In a tweet Monday, Musk asked his nearly 120 million followers if they knew, “Apple levies a secret 30% tax on anything you buy through their App Store?” In another tweet, he posted a picture of a freeway exit: one lane pointed to “pay 30%” and the other pointed to “go to war.” An old car with “Elon” written on it slid towards the latter.