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Apple’s App Store purge: censorship or child protection

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Apple’s iPhone App Store policy has once again hit the headlines this week, with the removal of a massive 5,000 apps by the Cupertino company. The reason? They’re overtly explicit. Or so says Apple. The move has led to complaints about double standards from the notoriously highly strung tech colossus and raised questions about whether this is really a move to protect kids, as Apple claims, or just a case of plain old censorship. So, which is it?

First, here’s how things have played out. The rumblings began last weekend, when developers the world over were told by Apple is was tweaking the App Store’s terms of service and yanking 5,000 add-ons it said was inappropriate. This was followed by Phil Schiller, Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing and the man who acted as CEO during Steve Jobs extended hiatus last year, telling The New York Times, “…we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see.”

sports illustrated

Cue outrage from the vociferous dev community about Apple’s decision to retain big ticket apps like Sports Illustrated and Playboy, both of which leave little to the imagination. If they can keep them, why get rid of other contentious extras?

“The fact that they left Playboy and Sports Illustrated up indicates that this action is not only hypocritical, but that it is based more on corporate strategy than on any deeply felt scruples or actual consumer complaints,.” That’s the opinion of Liam Colins, the man behind explicit apps such as iPinkVisual.

“Apple has taken their brand control beyond normal standards, and this is one basis of their remarkable success,” he says. “When they are attempting to control and dictate what is viewed, listened to and utilised by consumers on devices they purchased and pay for monthly, however, it becomes an act of censorship, pure and simple. Mobile porn exists, it is prolific and it is desired by many of Apple’s customers.”

But is it? Schiller surely has a point about wanting to protect kids, but if that is the case then Apple should work on better controls for the iPhone, or at least work on a dedicated adult area of the App Store. Seedy? Yes. Necessary? Probably. Apple cannot control the web or the content people desire, despite what it might think.

This episode points to a wider issue with Apple. Colins has a valid point about the double standards on show and Schiller’s arguments that Sports Illustrated is part of a “widely accepted format” doesn’t wash. If you’re going to purge the App Store, at least be more thorough.

Instead, the episode smacks of Apple trying to assert its position in the run up to the launch of the iPad. Instead, it’s scored a PR own goal. The only issue is, few people will sympathise with developers of adult content. However, Apple’s continued paranoia and power plays only appear to undermine the company, in the eyes of tech watchers at least. How does the general public feel? Well, the sales figures and profits speak for themselves. There’s no doubting this is a form of censorship, but one which most people, especially in the conservative US heartlands, will agree with.

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