wired reports that apple has turned 180 degrees in its embarrasing rejection of political cartoonist Mark Fiore, inviting him to resubmit his previously rejected iphone app so they can approve it and escape all the bad PR they’ve been getting. incredibly, apple cited the following reason for initially rejecting Fiore’s app:
“it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states: Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”
update 21 april: sure enough, Fiore got approved. “Looks like some guy named Steve Jobs was able to nudge my app past the gatekeepers,” he remarks to wired. meanwhile, apple rejected an app designed to teach programming to kids. AND ALSO simultaneously, jobs defended apple’s policy of banning sex apps: “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.” that is, unless they like playboy or sports illustrated, whose iphone apps have been approved as these are “reputable companies“. want more examples? i can go on ranting forever. 🙂
update 28 april: apparently, fiore is not the only cartoonist that has gotten rejected by apple for this very reason – “ridiculing public figures”. satirist daryl cagle, who does cartoons for msnbc, had an app rejected because it made fun of tiger woods. daniel kurtzman of about.com had two apps rejected, one which made fun of conservatives and one which made fun of liberals – because they “insulted groups of people”. ironically, apple did approve an app which appears to promote smoking (and which apparently hints at marihuana with its title, puff puff pass).
on the face of things, it looks like apple has encountered a fine line in their attempts at controlling their app ecosystem. one thing is to try to control what kinds of software should be allowed to run on your platform, another is controlling what kind of media content your users should be allowed to access. the first may be conceived of as a systems administrator task – the second is an editorial task. and the problem for apple is, of course, that in their app store these two concerns blend and mix. it will be interesting to see how much of a pr problem this becomes for apple. and how will they handle the inevitable cultural clashes that will arise as the iphone spreads around the globe? say, if someone puts out an app that is considered mainstream in the us, but is somehow controversial in some other country – be it germany, or china, or saudi arabia? it certainly seems like this is a problem apple will have to deal with for a long time to come – and one in which google has definitively gained the moral high ground with their (relatively) principled stance against censorship.
update 29 april: this story never ends. vanity fair columnist michael wolff today tells wired.com that apple rejected his app, a simple feed reader which retransmitted his column to iphone users. wolff thinks it is because he has written critically about apple and steve jobs in the past – a case of blatant corporate censorship, in other words. according to apple, the problem with the app is that it lacks “sufficient amounts of content to appeal to a broad audience.” wired’s reporter brian x. chen, who is vigilantly pursuing this whole story, points out that this is a little strange – since apple does approve a whole lot of other “reader” apps of the same format. and as chen remarks: the lack of a transparent policy with regards to app content means that apple’s motives are left open for interpretation.
wired also cites youtube’s handling of a new, controversial music video from m.i.a. as an example for apple to learn from. the video, which depicts a pretty disturbing dystopia where special police round up little red-haired kids in a twisted version of “ethnic cleansing” – with graphic violence such as a child being shot in the head and another being blown to pieces (literally). when youtube users flagged the video as controversial, youtube responded by slapping an age-restriction on the video – thereby making the video disappear from youtube search results, without actually taking the video down. now that you have been warned about the content, here is the video (in my opinion, it is pretty good!):
of course, while youtube’s (and by implication, google’s) handling of the problematic content is clearly “softer” than apple’s – don’t remove the content outright, just take it out of reach of children – that still doesn’t answer the overarching question: whether one individual corporation should have the power to make these editorial decisions at all. but surely the youtube approach is smarter – allowing them to stay friends with both parents concerned about media violence and others who are concerned about censhorship.
update 5 may: Jesper Juul has a good take on this, suggesting that apple’s policy is deliberately ambiguous in order to maximize both their own flexibility (in other words, reject or accept apps pretty much as they like) while also maximizing self-censorship (the randomness makes it necessary for developers to tread extra carefully). He also has a good comment on apple’s decision to block flash and other non-approved programming environments, pointing out that this will in particular hurt the indie gamescene.
update 8 june: astoundingly, today it was known that not even the literary masterpiece ulysses by james joyce was allowed through on the ipad, without being cut to live up to apple’s moral standards. that is, we’re talking about the graphic novel version of the book, which originally contained some nudity. the creators assumed that they would at least get by with pixelling out the nudity, but no – it had to be cut.