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Twitter squares off against Apple

The news: Elon Musk fired a salvo of Tweets chastising Apple for pulling its ads on Twitter and claiming Apple threatened to “withhold” Twitter from the App Store, setting up a conflict with tech’s biggest superpower, per The New York Times.

Why it’s worth watching: The speculation is that Musk wants to transition Twitter away from its ad-supported revenue model into a subscription-based service. This, however, will result in Apple’s App Store taking up to 30% of subscription revenues on mobile devices and Google Play similarly taking a 15% cut. 

  • Apple made up 4% of Twitter revenue in Q1, spending $48 million in the quarter —effectively making it the biggest ad buyer on the platform according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
  • Apple has since paused Twitter advertising. This prodded Musk to go on the offensive. 
  • “What’s going on here @tim_cook?” Musk tweeted Monday, also tweeting, “Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?”
  • “Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Musk said, but with no proof of any warning.

Rallying regulators: Musk’s unverified accusations against Apple could provide new evidence that it’s time for Congress to rein Apple in, Republican lawmakers said. 

“Apple and Google currently have a stranglehold on companies and have used their leverage to bully businesses,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is a co-sponsor of the Open Markets Act.

Apple’s next move: In an interview on CBS Morning two weeks ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “I don’t think anyone wants hate speech on their platform, so I’m counting on them to continue to (moderate abusive content).”

  • Twitter, which plans to launch its Twitter Blue paid subscription December 2, has plans to reinstate tens of thousands of banned accounts, per Insider.
  • Since Musk’s takeover, sexist and racist slurs exploded on the platform by 500%, per Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI).
  • Apple has managed to regulate the content on similar services like Discord and Tumblr—it also banned “free speech” app Parler until the service instituted ways to prevent calls for violence. 

The key takeaway: Musk is going up against a wealthy, powerful company that also has a lot of sway in the tech industry. Apple brought Facebook to its knees with its AppTrackingTransparency feature and could use advertising or an App Store ban to stop Twitter’s momentum.

Twitter has already violated the App Store’s terms of service by allowing spam, disinformation, and banned content, giving Apple reasons to shut them out. 

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence'sConnectivity & Tech Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the technology industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.