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

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

Adrées Latif | Reuters

Elon Musk has announced big, if confusing, plans for Twitter since taking over the social network last month.

Musk wants to dramatically increase the revenue the company makes from subscriptions while opening up the site to more “free speech,” which in some cases appears to mean restoring previously banned accounts like the one held by the former President Donald Trump.

But Musk’s plans for Twitter could bring him into conflict with two of the biggest tech companies: Apple and Google.

Tensions rise

Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc., 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 harmful content since Musk took over, putting the company’s apps at risk. In October, shortly after Musk became “Chief Twit”, a wave of online trolls and zealots flooded the site with hate speech and racist epithets.

The trolls organized on 4chan, then rushed to Twitter with anti-black and Jewish epithets. Twitter has suspended numerous 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 big companies and personalities, causing some advertisers to shy away from the social network, especially Eli Lilly. after a fake verified tweet erroneously stated that insulin would be provided. free.

App stores have taken notice.

“And when I left the company, the app review team calls had already started,” Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth wrote this month in The New. York Times.

Subscription fees and revenue

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

But the relationship looks set to change as Musk strives to generate more of the revenue from subscriptions.

Twitter brought in $5.08 billion in revenue in 2021. If half of that is from subscriptions in the future, as Musk said, that’s the goal, hundreds of millions of dollars would end up going to Apple and Google – a small sum for them, but a potentially massive hit for Twitter.

One of Apple’s main rules is that digital content (game pieces, avatar outfits, or premium subscriptions) purchased in an iPhone app must use Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism, where Apple charges directly for the purchase. ‘user. Apple takes 30% of sales, decreasing to 15% after one year for subscriptions, and pays the rest to the developer.

Companies like Epic Games, Spotifyand Matching group Lobby against Apple and Google rules as part of the Coalition for App Fairness. Microsoft and Meta also filed briefs in court criticizing the system and made public remarks aimed at app stores.

One option for Musk is to take a similar approach to what Spotify has done: offer a lower price of $9.99 on the web, where he doesn’t pay Apple a discount, and then users simply log into their account. existing in the application. Users purchasing a Premium subscription in the iPhone app pay $12.99, covering Apple’s costs.

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

Musk could sell Twitter Blue on the company’s website for a lower price and tweet to his more than 118 million followers that Blue is only available on Twitter.com. It might work and could help reduce Apple’s costs.

But it also means Twitter would have to remove many options for notifying users about in-app subscription, where they’re most likely to make a buying decision. And Apple has detailed rules about apps that apps can link to when notifying users of alternative payment methods.

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

A power struggle around content moderation

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

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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

It’s already arrived. Apple said in a letter to Congress last year that it removed more than 30,000 apps from its store for objectionable content in 2020.

If App Store-related issues hit Twitter, it could be “catastrophic,” according to former Twitter trust and safety chief Roth. Twitter lists app review as a risk factor in SEC filings, he noted.

Apple and Google may remove apps for a variety of reasons, such as an app’s security issues and its compliance with platform billing policies. And app reviews can delay release schedules and wreak havoc every time Musk wants to launch new features.

Over the past few years, app stores have started to take a closer look at user-generated content that is starting to turn into violent speech or social networks that lack content moderation.

There is precedent for a complete ban. Apple and Google banned Talk, a much smaller, conservative site, in 2020 after posts on the site promoted the Jan. 6 US Capitol riot and included calls for violence. In Apple’s case, the decision to ban high-profile apps is made by a group called the Executive Review Board, which is headed by Schiller – the Apple executive who deleted his Twitter account over the week. -end.

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

Musk reportedly fired many contact content moderators from Twitter this month.

Apple and Google have been cautious in banning apps like Parler, pointing to specific violations of the guidelines such as screenshots of the offending posts, rather than citing broad political reasons or pressure from lawmakers. On a social network as large as Twitter, it is often possible to find content that has not yet been flagged.

Still, Apple and Google are unlikely to want to engage in an uphill battle over what constitutes harmful information and what does not. This could end up sparking public scrutiny and political debate. It’s possible that app stores are simply delaying approval of new versions instead of threatening to remove apps entirely.

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

Musk reportedly talked about allowing users to pay for user-generated videos — which former employees said would lead to the feature being used for adult content, according to The Washington Post.

Apple’s App Store has never allowed pornography, a policy that dates back to company founder Steve Jobs, and Google also bans apps that focus on sexual content.

Anything that is not safe for work should be hidden by default. Twitter currently allows adult content, which could put it even more directly in the crosshairs.

“Apps with user-generated content or services that end up being used primarily 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 if it’s worth taking on two of Silicon Valley’s most valuable and powerful companies with 30% fees and Twitter’s ability to host edgy 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 service. Musk did not respond to a tweet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *