Apple and Elon Musk’s Twitter are on a collision course

SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk attends a joint press conference with T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert (not pictured) at SpaceX Starbase on August 25, 2022 in Brownsville, Texas, U.S.

Address Latif | Reuters

Elon Musk has revealed his big, if confusing, plans for Twitter after taking over the social network last month.

As Musk opens up the site to more “free speech,” he wants to significantly increase the company’s revenue from subscriptions, which in some cases means restoring previously banned accounts, such as those belonging to former President Donald Trump.

But Musk’s plans for Twitter could put him at odds with two of the biggest tech companies: Apple and Google.

Tension builds

Phil Schiller, Apple Inc.’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, speaks during an Apple event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

There are signs that Twitter has already seen an increase in malicious content since Musk took over, putting the company’s apps at risk. In October, shortly after Musk became Twit-in-Chief, a wave of online trolls and bigots flooded the site with hate speech and racist epithets.

Trolls organized on 4chan, then took to Twitter with anti-black and anti-Semitic epithets. Twitter has suspended multiple accounts, according to the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute.

Musk’s plan to offer paid blue verification badges has also led to chaos and accounts impersonating major corporations and figures, which has caused some advertisers to shy away from the social network, especially after a falsely verified tweet in which Eli Lilly falsely said it would provide insulin. for free.

App stores noted.

“And by the time I left the company, calls from app review groups had already begun,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and security, wrote in the New York Times this month.

Fees and subscription revenue

Twitter and Apple have been partners for years. In 2011, Apple deeply integrated tweets its iOS operating system. Acting as official company communications, tweets are regularly posted under Apple CEO Tim Cook’s account. Apple has been advertising new iPhones and big launch events on Twitter.

But the relationship is set to change as Musk moves to generate more revenue from subscriptions.

Twitter reported revenue of $5.08 billion in 2021. If half of that comes from subscriptions in the future, Musk’s goal, hundreds of millions of dollars will go to Apple and Google — a small sum for them, but a potentially big hit for Twitter.

One of Apple’s key rules is that digital content purchased within an iPhone app—whether in-game coins, an avatar outfit, or a premium subscription—must use an in-app purchase mechanism where Apple pays the user directly. Apple takes 30% of sales, drops to 15% for subscriptions after a year, and pays the developer the rest.

Companies like Epic Games, Spotifyand Match group Lobbying against Apple and Google regulations as part of the App Fairness Coalition. Microsoft and Meta have also filed briefs in court criticizing the system and made public statements targeting app stores.

One option for Musk is to take an approach similar to what Spotify does: Offer a lower price of $9.99 online, where it won’t give Apple a discount, and then users simply sign in to their existing accounts within the app. Users who subscribe to the Premium subscription within the iPhone app pay $12.99, effectively paying Apple’s fees.

Or Twitter could go even further, like Netflix, which in 2018 completely stopped offering subscriptions through Apple.

Musk could sell Twitter Blue for less on the company’s website and tweet to his more than 118 million followers that Blue is only available on This may work and help relieve Apple of any charges.

But it also means that Twitter will have to eliminate many options to inform users about the subscription within the app, since they are more likely to make a purchase decision. And Apple has detailed rules about which apps can be linked when informing users about alternative payment methods.

As Netflix’s app says: “You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know that’s a hassle.”

A power struggle over content moderation

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook speaks during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S., Monday, June 4, 2018.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Musk faces the power of Apple and Google and their ability to refuse to approve or even remove apps that violate their rules on content moderation and harmful content.

It happened before. apple In a letter to Congress last year, it said it had removed more than 30,000 apps from its store in 2020 for negative content.

If problems with the app store hit Twitter, it could be “disastrous,” according to Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and security. Twitter cited app review as a risk factor in filings with the SEC.

Apple and Google can remove apps for a variety of reasons, including app security issues and whether it complies with the platform’s payment guidelines. And software reviews can delay release schedules and cause havoc when Musk wants to launch new features.

In the past few years, app stores have begun to scrutinize user-generated content more closely, which has begun to overshadow violent speech or social networks without content moderation.

There is precedent for a total ban. Apple and Google banned Parler, a smaller and more conservatively oriented site, in 2020. In Apple’s case, the decision to ban high-profile apps is made by a group called the Executive Review Board, chaired by Apple CEO Schiller, who deleted his Twitter account over the weekend.

Apple approved Truth Social, Trump’s social networking app, in February, but it took longer for Google Play to approve it. The company told CNBC in August that the social network lacked “effective systems to manage user-generated content” and therefore violated Google’s Play Store terms of service. Finally, Google approved the app in October, saying apps should “remove objectionable content such as those that incite violence.”

Musk reportedly fired several of Twitter’s engagement content moderators this month.

Rather than citing broad political reasons or pressure from lawmakers, Apple and Google have been cautious in banning apps like Parler, pointing to specific guideline violations, such as screenshots of offensive content. In a large social network like Twitter, it is often possible to find content that has not yet been recorded.

Still, Apple and Google are unlikely to want to get into an uphill battle over what constitutes malicious information and what doesn’t. This can lead to public scrutiny and political debate. It’s possible that app stores are simply delaying approving new versions instead of threatening to remove apps altogether.

Future features could also irritate Apple and Google and take a closer look at the platform’s current operations.

According to the Washington Post, Musk has reportedly talked about allowing users to pay for user-generated videos — a feature that former employees say will lead to use for adult content.

Apple’s App Store has never allowed pornography, a policy dating back to company founder Steve Jobs, and Google also bans sexually explicit apps.

Anything that isn’t safe for work should be hidden by default. Twitter currently allows adult content, which may bring it directly to reviewers.

“Apps that contain user-generated content or services, primarily those used for pornographic content… do not belong in the App Store and may be removed without notice,” Apple’s guidelines state.

But Musk often runs towards battles, not away from them. Now he must decide whether taking two of Silicon Valley’s most valuable and powerful companies is worth a 30%-plus fee and Twitter’s ability to host angry tweets.

An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment. A Google representative declined to comment. Twitter did not respond to an email and the company no longer has a communications department. Musk did not respond to a tweet.

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