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Apple cutting ad spend on Twitter sends Musk to war

Elon Musk [Twitter]

After complaining about Apple spending less money in advertising on Twitter, Elon Musk claims that Apple has threatened the app with expulsion from the App Store — but it's not fully clear what's going on.

Since acquiring Twitter, Elon Musk has made a considerable number of changes, including alterations to policies, mass layoffs, and an apparent amnesty on suspended accounts. Among a series of tweets on Monday where he rails against Apple and its 30% commission for the App Store, as well as Apple's lowering of advertising on the service, Musk responded to a query about Apple itself.

When asked if Apple has made a threat against Twitter's existence in the App Store or made some form of moderation demand, Musk simply replied "Yes."

Loss of advertising dollars fired up the barrage

Advertising spending was seemingly the start of the tweet storm. Musk's initial tweet in the barrage claimed Apple had "mostly stopped advertising on Twitter," and accusingly asking "Do they hate free speech in America?" before prodding Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Earlier in November, an ad agency representing Apple recommended that clients don't spend any more money advertising on Twitter. There was concern by Omnicom Media Group about impersonation, layoffs, and other factors.

We have confirmation from other sources inside Apple not authorized to speak on the matter that the reasoning is correct. AppleInsider has reached out to Apple public relations for clarification on the entire saga.

App Store fees again

Musk's railing against Apple also touches upon the App Store commission in a pair of tweets. In one, he retweets the video created by Epic Games that it released at the start of its lawsuit against Apple over the fee and other policies.

Epic Games is a known opponent of Apple's store policies and charges, and its lawsuit sought to open up the iPhone to multiple app storefronts, among other elements.

Musk's contribution to the retweet was one word — "Accurate."

The second retweets a comment about the 30% charge, which Musk characterizes as "Did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?"

The fee is by no means a secret, and isn't necessarily 30%. In many cases, Apple only takes a 15% commission if the developer is paid less than $1 million for the year. Additionally subscriptions, like Twitter Blue, have a 30% commission on the first year, and 15% for subscriptions that extend beyond that first year.

Moderation may be at the center of the debate

Ten minutes later, Musk issued a standalone tweet with an outright accusation. "Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won't tell us why," the CEO claims.

It seems unlikely that Apple would issue such warnings without any form of clarification, such as referencing sections of the App Store guidelines that may be in violation by the app. Apple is also unlikely to state to the wider public what is wrong with the app either, though could do so if Twitter did actually get removed.

The tweet storm and the accusation follow after Musk was asked a similar question on Friday, namely if he would produce his own smartphone if Apple and Google kicked Twitter off the App Store. At the time, Musk hoped it didn't happen, but if there was no choice, he would "make an alternative phone."

Rumors of a "Tesla Phone" have been circulating for years. However, it is at best vaporware at this point.

If Apple really is concerned about Twitter's existence in the App Store — and that isn't at all clear — it is likely over moderation changes at the company. For an app to be hosted on the App Store, it needs to have clear moderation policies, and enforce them.

Apple's App Store Review Guidelines has, under its Safety section, a long list of content that's deemed "Objectionable," which it doesn't allow in apps.

Under User-Generated Content, apps must have filters for objectionable material, mechanisms for reporting such content with timely responses, and blocking features. Some apps that enable bullying and threats as well as not safe for work content can also be "removed without notice."

Social media app Parler was pulled from the App Store in early 2021, over a failure to submit moderation guidelines and for hosting objectionable content. It was eventually allowed back into the App Store after making changes.

There is the worry that, with a suspended account amnesty and policy changes regarding content among other factors, Twitter could risk going through the same thing.

At the seeming end of the tweet storm, Musk tweeted an image macro showing a car turning off a road, changing direction from "Pay 30%" to "Go to War."

Musk's tweets were all posted using "Twitter for iPhone."

Update: November 30, 2:21 PM ET Removed a Tweet from somebody claiming to be on Twitter's data team after doubts about authenticity. However, information from inside Apple we've been speaking to for over a decade remains in the section about ad spend. Apple has still not returned multiple calls and emails about the matter.