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Apple Sterilizes the App Store

Written on
Feb 22, 2010 
Author
Gavin Dunaway  |

app.jpgADOTAS – Though at heart I’m a skier and could care less what happens to any snowboarder, I was rather nonplussed when I heard that bronze-medal-winner Scotty Lago left the U.S. Olympic Snowboarding team after some “racy” pics appeared on the web.

Being the intrepid journalist I am, I scoured the Internet for the pictures in question (hosted by TMZ, which is depressingly becoming a go-to source for “news”) and rolled my eyes at how tame they were. These shots don’t even deserve a “sorta NSFW” label (not that I suggest you should install them as your desktop background). Coming up on 400 years after the Mayflower hit Plymouth Rock, this is a nation still unable to shake its Puritan roots.

So the App’s Store’s purge of 5,000 apps with questionable content was met not with a gasp, but a half-hearted head shake. Developers have complained in the past about Apple’s wavering standards of acceptable apps, but with this purge, Apple has actually introduced some hazy guidelines that would make Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America — infamous for their nonsensical, sex-is-bad-but-violence-fine movie-rating system — quite proud.

The developers of spurned app Wobble — which make certain extremities jiggle on a picture of a person when an iPhone is shaken — asked for details about these new rules:

  1. No images of women in bikinis.
  2. No images of men in bikinis. (Not even leopard-print.)
  3. No skin (Wobble adds: “He seriously said this…. I asked if a burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry.”)
  4. No suggestive silhouettes.
  5. No sexual connotations or innuendo.
  6. Nothing that can be deemed sexually arousing (Oh geez, the “Delicious Melons” app is screwed!).
  7. No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content.

The bikini one is particularly interesting since the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is  one of the top downloaded apps at the moment. Oh yeah, there’s a Playboy app as well… It’s not OK to objectify women unless you’re a major publication, it would seem.

These “guidelines” feel hastily assembled at best. HuffingtonPost was kind enough to assemble a list of banned apps and, with some glaring exceptions (nude minors and the infamous shake-the-baby app), most exhibit nothing worse than tastelessness. Wobble says more about the user (What are you, a 10-year-old boy?) than the device it’s on or the location where it was downloaded.

But be clear — this is not censorship. It’s Apple’s store and it’s Apple’s product; one can see the logic of not wanting to be considered the Spencer’s Gifts of mobile apps. Developers can cry their codewriting hearts out but Apple can use any damn justification to reject an app. The developer guidelines are actually unnecessary — and while they may be posing as an olive branch to programmers, they’re more insulting. (No skin? Wha?)

The arbitrary nature of these rules certainly bugs me — will apps from gay and lesbian advocacy groups fail to meet the test because they have sexual content? It reminds me of court cases from a decade ago surrounding the use of Internet filters on public computers that blocked sites such as the National Organization of Women for having unsanitary content.

However, the big difference there is that public libraries were using Internet filtering — several courts decided that if a public institution limited a citizen’s access to First Amendment protected content (which does not include pornography, the definition of which gets murky), then it was in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Apple’s App Store is a private operation — a classy one, they’d like us to believe — and they’re allowed to keep out whatever (and whomever) they want. Of course this could work to its disadvantage — if users really want an app to make breasts jiggle (men or women — equal opportunity), they can get an Android-powered phone. Maybe Microsoft should advertise its souped-up Windows Phone OS as optimized  for juvenile apps (“You’ve never heard a more believable fart — unless you cut it yourself!”).

Mobile devices are supposed to be about freedom, and if users are feeling limited by Apple’s residual Puritanism, they’ll use another brand. It’s a free country, y’all.





Gavin Dunaway is Editor, U.S. at AdMonsters, a leading trade publication, event producer and service provider for the online advertising industry. Previously, he had been Senior Editor of Adotas, where he arrived after years of ping-ponging around various industry publications. This Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate also enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

Reader Comments.

The great thing about this saga is that it once agin emphasises the difference between Apple (Closed) and all other mobile browser devices (Open – the other 95% of the market).

Unless Apple gives its permission, no podcast, video, music, animations, application or book may be downloeaded into an Apple device unless it comes via Apple.

While this has many upsides, just like many religions have their aparrent benefits for members, its the fundamental flaw that gnaws away, and ultimately undermines Apple’s momentum in getting to mass market.

The Apple App Store has now reached the same level of sales as the Crazy Frog did in 2004. Whether it can go on much longer will depend on how much apple can go more open while still coralling all the money and value to itself from its loyal followers and their converts.

Posted by Larry Larmor | 5:11 pm on February 23, 2010.

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