Elon Musk has a new foe he’s set his eye on as he looks for someone to cast blame on for Twitter’s current woes: Apple.
In a series of tweets yesterday, Musk detailed at least three different fronts in which he’s having issues with Apple:
1) Musk says that Apple has cut almost all of its ad spending on Twitter, which is a problem as it is one of Twitter’s biggest ad clients with previous $100 million yearly spends. Musk cites them hating “free speech” as the reason why:
2) Musk says that Apple has now threatened to take Twitter off the App Store, but will not explain why, and he posted a poll asking his followers if Apple should be forced to explain their “censorship” actions.
3) Musk seems to have only recently arrived at the discovery that Apple takes a 30% cut of revenue from in-app sales. This is a problem, given that Musk wants to replace most of Twitter’s advertising revenue with subscription revenue, which would then be subject to that 30% cut.
All three of these are separate issues each with their own causes and potential solutions, or lack thereof, for Elon and Twitter. Though Elon seems prepared to go to “war” with Apple over any or all of these situations, a sentiment he expressed in a now-deleted meme.
All reporting indicates that advertisers fleeing Twitter has nothing to do with hatred of “free speech” but rather a distrust in Elon Musk personally, that he will turn Twitter into a much riskier place to advertise by restoring banned accounts and potentially allowing toxicity to thrive there. It has been pointed out numerous times that a private company refusing to buy advertising on another private company’s platform is not a violation of the First Amendment principles of “free speech,” but that continues to be Elon’s line.
The second point, that Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store entirely, is something that now-departed Twitter Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth said would happen explicitly in a New York Times op-ed after he left:
“Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.”
Join this information with a Platformer report that Elon Musk is about to restore tens of thousands of previously banned and suspended accounts, and you can imagine that will only amplify the situation. You may believe that Twitter is too big for Apple to actually remove from the App Store, but people said the same thing about Fortnite, a game which Apple has banned for violating its policies.
And that leads into the third point, one where Musk may engender more support from the public and others in tech. It really does seem like Musk has only just now become aware of Apple’s 30% App Store cut which he calls a “secret,” while the Epic Games vs. Apple case was one of the biggest in recent tech industry history, and mostly did not go in Epic’s favor. Epic got Fortnite banned by offering an alternate in-app payment that went around Apple’s 30% cut. Then, after launching a big public campaign about Apple’s “tyranny” led by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, they took Apple to court.
The first judgements in that case did not find that Apple was being anti-competitive, but did require them to let apps at least link out to other ways to pay. Apple also voluntarily reduced its cut to 15% for apps making under $1 million in revenue, but clearly that’s not Twitter, and Elon’s grand plans for subscription revenue would be seriously hurt by them taking that much off the top. This is why you can’t do things like rent Amazon movies on your iPad, because everyone is trying to avoid Apple’s cut.
What Elon does next here with all three of these issues is unclear. Previously he said he would just…build his own phone, and no one is quite sure if he’s being serious or not, but that does not sound like anything approaching a reasonable short or mid-term solution, given what would be involved in accomplishing that. Despite Musk fans saying that “if he can build a rocket he can build a phone,” the actual logistics of that would be…challenging, to say the least.
Apple reducing Twitter advertising appears to have already happened. The 30% cut of subscription revenue only really matters if Musk can even generate a lot of subscription sign-ups in the first place, which has not been the case with Twitter Blue so far, and the product has yet to even relaunch after it was plagued with impersonation issues. The most imminent problem is if Apple decides to remove Twitter from the app store entirely for violating its policies, which may be tied to Musk’s “almost anything goes” approach to free speech and restoration of previously banned accounts. It’s unclear who would blink first in this situation, Musk or Apple, and without a Tesla phone with its own app store available to launch tomorrow, I’m not sure what kind of power position Musk thinks he’s in here.
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