SAN FRANCISCO — “What’s going on here @tim_cook?” Elon Musk tweeted to Apple CEO Tim Cook on Monday, sparking a debate between the world’s richest man and the world’s most valuable public company.
In a thread of tweets that spanned more than 15 minutes, Twitter’s new owner, Mr. Musk, accused Apple of threatening to withhold Twitter from the App Store in a move that would limit some new users from downloading the app. Mr Musk said the action would amount to censorship. He added that Apple has also reduced its advertising spending on Twitter.
With his tweets, Mr. Musk set the stage for a power struggle with Mr. Cook, who has had tremendous influence over other tech companies through Apple’s dominance. Mr. Musk now has a vested interest in Apple’s influence, as he owns Twitter, which he bought for $44 billion last month and is used by iPhone owners around the world. In a tweet, Mr. Musk hinted that he was ready to “battle” with Apple.
An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple’s power over mobile apps begins with the App Store, the main gateway through which billions of iPhone users download Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, games and all sorts of other software programs. Apple charges developers 30 percent to sell their software in-store, which has turned apps into a multi-billion dollar business for the Silicon Valley company and made it the arbiter of software distribution.
But that power has sparked a backlash among app developers, and Apple has faced increasing pressure from regulators and politicians around the world over the App Store and its policies. The App Store is the target of an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. Last year, the Senate also passed antitrust legislation aimed at increasing competition with both Apple’s and Google’s app stores.
With just a few changes, Apple could also impact mobile advertising. Last year, it made a number of technical changes to improve people’s privacy with mobile apps. These changes have made it harder for many apps to target ads to users, and tech executives include Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.
Apple also requires companies to create a “safe experience” for their apps to be listed on the App Store. In the past, Apple and Google have used their location as the key link between app developers and consumers to push for content moderation. After the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year, Apple blocked “freedom of speech” social network Parler from appearing in the App Store until the service introduced railings to prevent calls to violence.
“During my time on Twitter, representatives of app stores have regularly expressed their concerns about the content available on our platform,” wrote Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, in an editorial published this month in The New York Times. Mr Roth said App Store commenters had expressed concern about pornography and racial slurs on Twitter.