Apple's iPhone app moral hypocrisy

The company wants to ensure both technical and moral purity -- a sure path to killing Apple's creative spirit

Maybe Steve Jobs is a prude -- how else to explain why Apple is censoring iPhone and iPad apps because of sexual and unkind content? The latest example is the censoring of a comic based on the James Joyce novel "Ulysses" due to an image of a nude swimmer. (After this blog was originally posted, Apple uncensored the comic.) Apple also gained notoriety for banning a political cartoonist from the App Store because of his zings against politicians -- until he won a Pulitzer Prize, anyhow. It has banned mature but nonpornographic apps such as a version of the magazine Maxim, and it throws up parental warnings when you download apps such as browsers and news readers simply because they could be used to go to content Apple deems unseemly.

This is the same Jobs who at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7 ended his two-hour-long marketing extravaganza with a photo of a street sign, where one street was labeled Liberal Arts and the other Engineering, with Jobs claiming that Apple combined the best of technology with the best of the humanities. Also, Jobs had led a company that has long been an advocate for socially progressive positions such as legalizing gay marriage.

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But Apple is not practicing what it preaches when it comes to app approval. The hypocrisy at work here is bad for users, developers, and Apple itself. Apple CEO Jobs proudly annouced that one of the iPad's selling points was "freedom from porn," and he made a crack that people who wanted X-rated apps could go to the Android Market. Well, they will. Then again, Apple's selling iPhones and iPads like hotcakes, so maybe it doesn't need the sales boost that porn has always provided new technologies, from VCRs to PCs, from DVDs to broadband access -- but that's not the point.

Part of the issue seems to based on Apple's desire to control the quality of its platform -- and make no mistake about it: It is Apple's platform. You just get to use it, albeit at a price, like visiting the circus or a zoo. But quality control over apps, such as to prevent crashes and to ensure the software does what it promises, is one thing. Control over content and thought is quite another.

Apple doesn't seem to understand the difference. Apple has taken a lot of heat over its App Store approval process; Jobs even felt compelled to defend it last week at WWDC, claiming only 5 percent of apps were rejected and then claiming that stability, comformance to Apple technical standards, and comformance to promised fuctionality were the three criteria used for rejection. Of course, we know Jobs was not telling the whole truth when he enumerated those reasons. He neglected to mention the fourth sticking point: Apps Apple rejects because it don't like them personally.

But users understand the difference. Over the last week, in conversations with IT and developer friends, I've heard the following refrain consistently: "Bravo to Apple for assuring that the iPhone and iPad apps are technically sound, whether they make fart noises or let me construct 3D models. But why is Apple telling me what I can know or think or see?"

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