Elon Musk may be luring Apple into a war with Republicans

Tim Cook walks in the Paddock before the F1 Grand Prix of the United States at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Jared C. Tilton | beautiful pictures

In the past week, Twitter boss Elon Musk has poke applethe big bear of Silicon Valley, which controls the distribution of apps for every iPhone.

Musk has targeted the iPhone maker over a number of topics, including reducing ad spend on Twitter and cutting all digital sales made through apps by 30 percent. He also accused Apple of threatening pull the Twitter app from the App Store.

In a since-deleted tweet, Musk hinted that he would “go to war”. On another occasion, he asked if Apple hates free speech. Last weekend, I pondered I would make your own smartphone.

Apple is still a bear sleeping in the face of Musk’s provocations. It did not comment, nor did CEO Tim Cook, and while moderators review its app may talking to Twitter behind the scenes Regarding questionable content, Apple did not withdraw the application. In fact, Twitter received the update through an app review last week.

Twitter is not important to Apple from a business perspective. It’s just one of countless apps on the App Store, and it’s not a huge monetization tool for Apple through in-app purchases.

But on Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, both Republicans, made comments about Apple’s situation, suggesting Musk could put Apple in the position. How difficult.

Here’s one way it could go:

  • Musk made changes to Twitter to bypass Apple’s 30% fee, such as allowing users to plug their credit cards into the app to sign up for Twitter Blue or other new features.
  • Apple pulls the app because of these violations.
  • Musk sees the dispute with Apple as an issue of freedom of speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
  • Apple is caught up in a nationwide debate about its right to free speech and its exclusive power to focus on the App Store.

How can anything happen?

On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that if Apple removed Twitter, it would show that Apple has monopoly power and Congress should consider that. DeSantis sees it as a matter of free speech – many conservatives believe that social networks, including Twitter, often discriminate against conservative views.

“You have also heard reports that Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store because Elon Musk is actually giving it freedom of speech and is restoring a lot of accounts that have been unjustly and illegally suspended. for providing accurate information about Covid,” DeSantis said.

“If Apple reacted to that by removing them from the app store, I think that would be a huge mistake and it would be a really gross act of monopoly power,” he continued. .

Vance framed the same situation in one tweet, said that if Apple pulled out Twitter, “This would be the most brutal exercise of monopoly power in a century and no civilized nation should allow it.”

In fact, Apple’s app review department doesn’t have the ability to pull Twitter about content. While Apple regularly bans apps with questionable content, they’re rarely big brands like Twitter — they’re often smaller, lesser-known apps. Apple’s rules for apps with important user-generated content like Twitter focus on whether they have a content filtering system or content moderation process, and less on the types of content. specific violations. Twitter has both, although Musk’s recent layoffs for Twitter may affect its ability to flag problematic posts.

But Apple will be more likely to pull out of the Twitter app if it tries to cut Apple’s platform fees.

It happened before. In 2020, Fortnite added a system inside its iPhone app that allows users to purchase in-game currency directly from Epic Games, taking a 30% cut in sales that Apple normally takes. Apple removes Fortnite from the App Store same day. (The episode opened the legal battle that Apple win on most counts, but it is currently being appealed.)

Musk has good business reasons to choose this fight.

Specifically, Musk wants Twitter to make more money from direct signups, not ads. But Apple’s 30% cut on purchases made inside apps is a major setback for a company that is cutting costs and have a substantial debt. (Google makes a similar cut to Android apps sold through its Play Store, but also allows other Android app stores to exist and lets people “get side-apps” directly. into their phones, while Apple has an exclusive lock on all iPhone app distribution. )

So Musk could take an Epic Games move and enable direct payments, spurring Apple to take action, while shaping the debate around free speech. If that happens, as DeSantis suggests, perhaps Congress will start asking questions. Apple will become the ball in the political debate. Executives may be forced to testify or give written responses.

At the very least, you’ll have legislators like Vance using the words “monopoly” and “Apple.” in the same sentence. That’s a risk to Apple’s brand. Debate on these topics can reactivation of pending regulation like the Open Market Act this threatens its control of the App Store and its substantial profits.

The last time Apple revoked an app popular with conservatives (for lack of content moderation) was Parler in January 2021. The app was reinstated in April.

In the interim, Apple faces official questions from Republican senators Ken Buck and Mike Lee about why Parler was removed from the App Store. Chef appeared on Fox News to defend the company’s decisions.

Twitter is a significantly more popular and important social network than Parler and will attract more attention.

It would probably be most valuable to Apple if Twitter remained on the platform and the controversial iPhone maker would probably want this whole Elon Musk story gone.

Indeed, it could turn out this way: Apple keeps quiet, works with Twitter behind the scenes on their app, and Musk tweets about the 30% cut when it upsets him. Nothing really changed.

But Musk is unpredictable, and if he really wants to”go to war” above 30% fees, Apple could be pushed into a difficult situation.

Apple and Twitter did not immediately return requests for comment.


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