Twitter vs. The App Stores

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, in an op-ed for The New York Times:

There is one more source of power on the web — one that most people don’t think much about but may be the most significant check on unrestrained speech on the mainstream internet: the app stores operated by Google and Apple. [...]

In my time at Twitter, representatives of the app stores regularly raised concerns about content available on our platform. On one occasion, a member of an app review team contacted Twitter, saying with consternation that he had searched for “#boobs” in the Twitter app and was presented with … exactly what you’d expect. Another time, on the eve of a major feature release, a reviewer sent screenshots of several days-old tweets containing an English-language racial slur, asking Twitter representatives whether they should be permitted to appear on the service.

Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.

Twitter wannabe Parler was banned from the App Store for three months in 2021 for its free-for-all lack of moderation. And it appears as though Apple executives aren’t exactly fans of Musk-era Twitter.

That said, I think content moderation isn’t where Musk is going to steer Twitter into direct conflict with Apple and Google over their app stores. The in-app purchasing revenue splits are. Here’s Musk last week, responding to a Slashdot post about Epic alleging a $360 million payola scheme from Google to keep Activision from creating its own Android game store:

App store fees are obviously too high due to the iOS/Android duopoly.

It is a hidden 30% tax on the Internet.

It’s not a big business at the moment, but Twitter’s year-old Super Follow subscription feature uses in-app payments, and “selling subscriptions” is apparently a big part of Musk’s plans. I’d be surprised if Musk isn’t soon as outspoken (and perhaps as litigious) about Apple and Google’s app store payment rules as Tim Sweeney and Epic Games.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022