Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk said today on Twitter that Apple has threatened to “withhold” Twitter from its App Store, suggesting that Apple is less than happy with the state of content moderation on the social news platform.
Apple has paused almost all of its advertising on the platform, also according to Musk, and Apple VP Phil Schiller, who runs the App Store, recently deleted his Twitter account.
All of this is in context of Musk attempting to reframe Twitter as a service with a significant amount of subscription revenue, which — if transacted via the Apple App Store or Google’s equivalent, Google Play — would incur first-year commission of 30%, and subsequent year costs of 15%.
Not surprisingly, Musk is unhappy about that — as well as Apple’s content moderation policies, and has even suggested that he would consider making his own phone to avoid the iOS-Android duopoly in mobile operating systems.
It’s also in context of Twitter losing perhaps 70% of its staff, with likely many involved in content moderation and brand safety no longer in place. That has resulted in an increase of impersonation — particularly with paid-for verification — which Musk has said has now dissipated, and additional porn, spam, and inauthentic behavior, likely from bots, on the platform. The most recent manifestation: a massive amount of porn targeting any discussion of China and the anti-Covid restriction riots in its cities.
It’s important to note that Musk used the word “withhold” and not remove. Withholding Twitter from the App Store suggests that Twitter may be having difficulties updating its app, which must pass an Apple App Store review for compliance with app submission guidelines. As a point of reference, Spotify’s recent app update which including various ways for customers to buy audiobooks was rejected three times by Apple. Facebook also had trouble updating its gaming app in recent years.
If a company can’t update its app on the App Store or Google Play, it essentially can’t innovate and deliver the services it wants to deliver to its users or customers.
That may be happening here, though the App Store listing for the Twitter app shows it was updated as recently as a week ago, and four times in the last month.
Musk recently retweeted a tweet saying that Apple “should be more transparent about their processes and probably not have such a monopoly” and another that said “Apple should support free speech.” He’s also published a Twitter poll asking whether Apple should publish “all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers,” which so far has over 1.3 million votes and an 85% “yes” leaning.
Apple is currently in a battle with Epic Software, which makes Fortnite and wanted to sell digital products to its customers without paying the 30% “Apple Tax” fee. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store when Epic released that ability in an update, and the battle has dragged on for years in the courts. The fight is currently in federal appeals court, and Epic is planning to sue Google as well.
If Twitter and Elon Musk — still the richest person on the planet — join the fight against Apple, this could change the way the App Store operates. They may be joined in the fight by the European Union, which I have argued elsewhere will change the App Store as well know it with the Digital Markets Act.
From that post, here’s what the Digital Markets Act could force Apple and Google to allow:
Deleting pre-installed apps
Side-loading apps, or installing them just like you might install an app from the internet on a desktop computer
Independent app stores
Third-party payment processing
All of which would give Musk, presumably, what he wants. But, possibly, not on his notoriously impatient preferred schedule.
In perhaps a lack of speech that speaks volumes, Apple’s official Twitter account currently is following zero people and has exactly zero tweets: