Elon Musk claimed Monday that Apple has “threatened” to pull Twitter from the iOS app store, a move that could be devastating for the company Musk just bought for $44 billion.
“Apple ( AAPL ) has also threatened to withhold Twitter from the App Store but won’t tell us why,” Musk said in one of several tweets Monday targeting Apple ( AAPL ) and its CEO for alleged moves that could undermine Twitter’s business.
In another tweet, Musk claimed that Apple has largely stopped advertising on Twitter. “They hate free speech in America,” he said, in an apparent reference to his oft-stated desire to bolster the idea of free speech on the platform. “What is going on here [Apple CEO Tim Cook]?” Musk added in a follow-up tweet. He too criticised Apple’s size, claimed it engages in “censorship”, and called out the 30% transaction fee Apple charges major app developers to be listed on the app store.
The tweetstorm highlights the tenuous relationship between Musk and Apple, which along with Google serve as the main gatekeepers for mobile applications. Long before he took over Twitter, the Tesla boss said that when the car company was struggling, he considered selling the company to Apple, but that Cook refused to take a meeting with him.
Removal from Apple’s app store, or Google’s, would be damaging to Twitter’s business, which is already struggling with the loss of advertisers following Musk’s takeover and a difficult first attempt to expand its subscription business.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk’s tweets. The company has previously shown it is willing to remove apps from the app store due to concerns about their ability to moderate harmful content or if they try to circumvent Apple’s cut of in-app purchases and subscriptions.
In January 2021, Apple removed Parler, an app popular among conservatives, including some members of the far right, from its app store following the US Capitol attack due to concerns about the platform’s ability to detect and moderate hate speech and incitement. Parler was returned to Apple’s app store three months later after updating its content moderation practices.
In its official app store review guidelines, Apple lists various security parameters that apps must adhere to in order to be included in the store, including an ability to prevent “content that is offensive, insensitive, revolting, intended to disgust, in unusually bad taste, or just plain scary’ such as hate speech, pornography and terrorism. “If you want to shock and offend people, the App Store is not the right place for your app,” the guidelines state.
Various civil society groups, researchers and other industry watchers have raised concerns about Twitter’s ability to effectively moderate harmful content and maintain the platform’s security following widespread layoffs and mass employee exits at the company. Musk has also claimed that he wants to strengthen “freedom of expression” on the platform and has begun to restore some accounts that were previously banned or suspended for repeated violations of Twitter’s rules. Musk himself has shared a conspiracy theory and several other controversial tweets since taking over as Twitter’s owner.
Musk, long a prolific and antagonistic tweeter, hasn’t let up at all since taking over the company. And what it may have lost in revenue, he has claimed, it has made up for in commitment. Part of the strategy seems to be to relentlessly target enemies, either of him personally or of “free speech.”
In an interview with CBS earlier this month, Cook was asked if there are any ways Twitter could change that would prompt Apple to remove it from the app store. “They say they’re going to continue to moderate and so … I expect they will,” Cook responded. “Because I don’t think anyone really wants hate speech on their platform. So I expect them to continue with it.”
In an article published in the New York Times last week, Twitter’s former head of trust and security, Yoel Roth, who left the company earlier this month, suggested that Twitter had already started receiving calls from app store operators following Musk’s takeover. 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, deleted his Twitter account.
While the state of Apple and Twitter’s relationship is unclear, the iPhone maker ran Black Friday ads on the platform as recently as last Thursday, according to posts seen by CNN.
Many companies have pulled back on digital ad spending in recent months as the economy slumped, and Twitter has likely always been only a small part of Apple’s ad budget. However, Apple’s impact on Twitter could be much more significant, including if Musk succeeds in shifting its core business to be more dependent on subscription revenue, potentially paying a 30% cut to Apple.
In a tweet Monday, Musk asked his nearly 120 million followers if they know that “Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through the App Store?” In another tweet, he posted a photo of a freeway exit: one lane headed toward “pay 30%,” the other pointed toward “go to war.” An old car marked “Elon” slid towards the latter.