- Elon Musk criticizes Apple’s App Store policies, and other tech CEOs have expressed support.
- Musk, who has 119 million Twitter followers, is bringing fresh attention to Apple’s tight control over iOS apps.
- Apple has successfully defended its policies in previous court battles, but Musk poses a new puzzle.
Tim Cook can’t be happy that Elon Musk has decided to wage a “war” against Apple.
Musk is a powerful, vocal person with powerful, vocal friends, and his continued criticism promises to shine a very public spotlight on Apple’s power over Twitter and other app-based businesses — a headache for a company that has been forced to defend its policies in court and before Congress in the past.
Musk bluntly laid out his main criticism in a tweet the reply to “PayPal Mafia” member David Sacks that Apple, along with Google, “effectively controls access to much of the internet through their app stores.”
If Apple, for example, decides it doesn’t approve of a certain app, it can remove it from the App Store – essentially making it disappear from much of the internet, or at least the nearly 50% of the US market that uses an iPhone.
It did just that with the Talk app, which Apple took down after the Capitol siege on January 6. Speak tightened its moderation policies and Apple let it back on the App Store, but the company described it as a “PG” version with “enhanced threat reporting tools and incentives.” Now Musk is easing Twitter’s content moderation policies and tech watchers say Apple may also remove it from the App Store. An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Musk’s statements ahead of their release.
Musk says that’s just too much power for one company. And while other companies – including Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite – have sued Apple, the company has stood firm: it is maintaining its gatekeeper role.
But with Musk making noise, will more people notice?
Already, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that Congress should act if Twitter is ever banned from the App Store.
And if Musk ends up throwing the match that ends up igniting a fire that forces Apple to change, it could eat away at one of its biggest cash cows: Apple is taking a 30% cut on all in-app sales made through its App Store. Musk also took aim at this.
Musk claimed that Apple had previously threatened to remove Twitter from the App Store. (Asked two weeks ago about deleting Twitter, Apple CEO Cook told CBS News, “They say they’re going to keep moderating…I’m counting on them to do that.” )
Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” who likes to make quick changes in the companies he runs, may ultimately find his view of Twitter limited by Apple’s policies. Failure to follow its policies risks removal of Twitter from the App Store, which would undoubtedly hurt Twitter’s bottom line.
Twitter said so, writing in a December 2021 SEC filing that its mobile business is “dependent on and may be affected by operators of digital storefronts, such as Apple’s App Store review teams and from the Google Play Store”.
It’s a concern for any company building an app – and Musk’s comments have led others in the tech industry to rehash their past criticisms of the iPhone maker.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney expressed support for Musk’s comments about Apple.
Sweeney knows what it’s like to take on the business. Apple removed Epic’s hit game “Fortnite” from the App Store in 2020, after Epic began allowing players to pay the company directly for in-game purchases, in violation of Apple’s policies. Apple. Epic sued Apple, saying it engaged in “unfair and anti-competitive actions.”
It’s lawsuits like Epic’s, which include a discovery process, depositions and testimonials, that Apple wants to avoid. While a judge finally ruled last year that Apple’s practices weren’t monopolistic, the decision still ordered Apple to allow app developers to connect to other ways to make purchases. that would avoid the so-called Apple tax.
Concessions like that of Apple’s battle with Epic can impact Apple’s services business, which generated more than $19 billion in revenue in its fourth fiscal quarter. Apple has appealed the Epic lawsuit’s decision.
Musk is now trying to put Apple in the hot seat, a seat Tim Cook and Apple have largely tried to avoid.
Tuesday, Musk tweeted “people have spoken,” in response to a poll published Monday, asking “Apple should publish any censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.”
More than 84% of the 2.2 million responses voted “yes”.
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