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On November 30, Elon Musk issued a unilateral surrender.If you run a large media company, and if that media company makes 90% of its revenue from advertising, a good baseline goal is to not alienate companies that buy the most ads.Elon Musk, on the other hand, used his first few days on the job as chief executive officer of Twitter Inc. to post conspiracy theories, goof around with an antisemitic rapper and generally do everything in his power to make the app unattractive to marketers. Advertisers responded, predictably, by pausing their campaigns. Musk then threatened to sic his fanboys on them, via “thermonuclear name and shame.” He suggested that advertisers who’d quit spending money on Twitter-a group that includes Pfizer, General Motors and United Airlines-were bowing to “activists,” who are “trying to destroy free speech in America.” As the Financial Times reported, he followed up by personally calling the CEOs of big advertisers “in order to berate them,” which caused some to further cut their spending.This was coercive and gross. It also failed miserably. Tellingly, Musk found out where his limits were when he declared “war” on Apple Inc. His campaign started on Nov. 28, when he complained that Apple, which has been his company’s largest advertiser, had “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter,” and asked, “Do they hate free speech in America?” The claim that Apple had cut off Twitter was false, at least according to data from Pathmatics, a research firm that tracks digital marketing spending.Pathmatics data show that although Apple had cut back on its Twitter ad spending from the summer-Apple hasn’t explained why, but a reasonable place to start might be headlines like “Elon Brings One of America’s Most Prominent Nazis Back to Twitter”- it was still paying the company $1 million or so per month. Neither Musk nor Apple responded to requests for comment.Warning that the “future of civilization” was at stake, Musk attacked Apple CEO Tim Cook by raising what he seemed to perceive as Apple’s major vulnerability: regulatory scrutiny of its App Store. Musk claimed, without offering evidence, that Apple had threatened to boot Twitter from the platform. He also accused the company of placing “a secret 30% tax on everything you buy.” (The suggestion of secrecy was comical; App Store fees have been one of the most talked-about subjects in the tech industry for more than a year.) To support his position, Musk posted a parody video created by Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, which had sued Apple in 2020 over the in-app purchasing scheme, and tweeted a meme suggesting that he knew going to war with Apple was reckless-and was willing to do it anyway.For a day or so, it looked like Apple had stumbled into something serious. Musk fanboys fantasized about the ludicrous possibility of their alpha lord creating his own iPhone competitor, right-wing politicians released concerned statements, and Tucker Carlson Tucker Carlsoned. There were think pieces written: “Mr. Musk set the stage for a power struggle,” the New York Times declared, warning that Musk’s growing clout among Republicans could mean trouble for Apple. At the DealBook Summit, Mark Zuckerberg, who’s taken to blaming Meta Platform Inc.’s woes on Cook rather than his own decision to waste money on the metaverse, attacked Apple as monopolistic and “problematic.”But on Nov. 30, Musk issued a unilateral surrender. He deleted the meme and proceeded to something approaching flattery, posting a serene video of Apple’s “beautiful HQ” and thanking Cook for a tour and a “good conversation.” Musk chalked the entire thing up to a “misunderstanding.” There was no mention of Apple’s fee and nothing about the alleged advertising pullback. Musk later claimed that Apple had “fully resumed advertising.” Pathmatics reports that Apple spent around $235,000 over the seven days beginning on Nov. 28-in other words, the same amount it had been spending at the time Musk declared war.It was sensible that Musk, who has a well-documented reluctance to ever back down from a fight, would uncharacteristically reverse course. Not only does Apple hold power over Twitter’s current business, but it controls what Musk has said is the company’s future-a hastily conceived scheme to charge users $8 a month for a blue “verification” badge, like the ones on the accounts of celebrities, journalists and politicians. Any revenue that Musk collects through the App Store will be subject to that fee, and any effort by Musk to go around the Apple system-say, with a link that sends users from the Twitter app to the web instead-would probably get the company banned. This means that Musk faces the same suboptimal choice he always did: either accept about $5.60 per subscriber each month or raise prices inside the iPhone app so there’s $8 left over for him after fees.Musk has other options. As my colleague Mark Gurman pointed out, he could pull a Netflix and try to sign up subscribers through Twitter’s website, which would probably result in fewer subscriptions. He could choose to defy Apple, as Epic tried to do, though the Epic lawsuit ended in Apple’s favor and Fortnite is still banned from its App Store.Another source of leverage for Musk-his ability to get right-wing politicians to follow his lead-is less robust than it might appear. Yes, he’s been able to direct coverage on Fox News, but his allies in the Republican Party have positioned themselves, for the most part, as friends to the world’s largest companies. Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, likely the next chair of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed antitrust bills aimed at reining in Big Tech companies that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. (The bills have yet to be brought up for a vote in the Senate; it’s not clear Democrats have attracted enough support.) Looking ahead, Jordan seems mostly focused on reining in Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan.After a recent meeting with Cook, Jordan declared that the dispute over the App Store had been “resolved.” He then complained about Apple’s operations in China, promising to “get to the bottom” of the potential influence that Beijing enjoys over large American companies. The line of inquiry could also be a serious threat to Musk, who’s expanded aggressively in China.Of course, Apple’s ability to push around a vituperative billionaire is indicative of the company’s broader power in tech. While Musk was issuing his empty threats, the crypto exchange Coinbase Global Inc. said Apple blocked its latest app release over a feature that Apple claimed violated the 30% fee policy. Like Musk, Coinbase had no good options except to pull the feature and gripe about it on Twitter. Apple held all the cards: Its iPhone operating system runs on most US smartphones, the company brings in the vast majority of global smartphone profits, and there seems to be little organized constituency to undercut that power through regulation. If you want access to those lucrative iPhone users, you have to play by Cook’s rules. But you are allowed to tweet all you want.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The Day”People’s Decision”: AAP’s Saurabh Bhardwaj On Delhi Civic Poll Results

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