Elon Musk claims Apple threatened to take away the Twitter app

Twitter That’s what owner Elon Musk claimed in a series of tweets on Monday Apple had threatened to remove the Twitter app from the App Store as part of its app review moderation process.

“Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Musk tweeted.

In other tweets fired Monday morning, he called Apple’s App Store fees a “secret 30 percent tax” and conducted a poll asking if “Apple should publicize all the censorship measures it has taken and which affect its customers”. He also claimed that Apple pulled most of its advertising from Twitter.

Apple’s App Store is the only way to distribute software to iPhones. If the Twitter app were to be discontinued, the social network would lose one of its main distribution platforms, even though the service is available for the web.

Elon Musk said his company SpaceX cannot fund the Starlink service in Ukraine “indefinitely.”

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Additionally, Apple requires iPhone app makers to pay between 15% and 30% of all digital goods sold through their apps. Musk said one of his plans for Twitter is to raise billions of dollars through subscriptions like Twitter Blue, which is offered through the iPhone app. If it grew to Musk’s goals, Apple would rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Apple has been endorsed by companies such as Spotify and Epic Games, but Musk is no stranger to garnering global attention and could be Apple’s biggest challenge yet to its control over iPhone app distribution.

Apple declined to comment on Musk’s tweets.

However, there are signs that Apple is closely monitoring the social network to see if it violates App Store policies.

Representatives from unnamed app stores, which include Apple’s App Store as well as Google Play for Android devices, took to Twitter earlier this month after Musk took over and the site faced a spate of hate speech, according to a New York Times op-ed by Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s former chief marketer who oversees App Review, apparently deleted his Twitter account earlier this month after Musk took over.

Phillip Shoemaker, the former head of Apple’s App Review and current CEO of Identity.com, said Schiller’s move to delete his account reminded him of a company taking steps to “prepare for war.” He believes Apple’s app review department is closely monitoring Twitter’s content moderation under Musk to see if more questionable content, like porn, slips through.

Apple’s recent moves are “like removing troops from a country before attacking,” Shoemaker said. “You think you need to pull these apps from the store.”

Where Twitter might run afoul of Apple’s rules

There are two main reasons Apple’s App Store might take a closer look at Twitter under its public policies:

  • Apple requires apps with user-generated content like Twitter to have strong content moderation systems. Inadequate content moderation was the reason Apple booted Parler, a smaller Twitter competitor, in 2020. Musk has reportedly significantly reduced Twitter’s content moderation workforce.
  • Apple charges apps between 30% and 15% for digital purchases. When Epic Games installed a system to circumvent Apple’s cut, Apple removed it. If Twitter made a similar move, it could force Apple to act.

There are also other reasons Twitter could run afoul of Apple’s rules, including insisting that adult content is undetectable by default. Twitter remains one of the most well-known social networks, allowing adult content and opening up gray areas for app store lag or issues.

Apple’s App Store employs staff to review every app and update that comes to the platform. The app reviewers often send short replies highlighting issues without explicitly saying what apps must do to pass, CNBC previously reported.

Musk has been tweaking Apple for years and seems to enjoy it. He has complained about Apple’s App Store fees in the past, although the Tesla App does not allow in-app purchases. He has also grappled with Apple’s alleged plan to build electric cars, although Apple’s secret project has never shipped a car.

In 2015, Musk teased Apple for only hiring rejected Tesla employees and calling Apple the “Tesla graveyard.”

But Musk’s moves on Monday go beyond teasing and rivalry and suggest he may be ready to engage in a protracted PR battle over Apple’s rules. In a tweet, he posted a meme of a car turning off the freeway under a street sign offering two choices: “pay 30%” and “go to war.” The car chose the latter option.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Phillip Shoemaker’s name.

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