on censorship in the Apple app store

I’ve been trying to be a voice of reason when it comes to how Apple operates. I’d rather see them as generally trying to do the right thing, but struggling sometimes with some of the nitty gritty things. Like letting individuals interpret blanket policies for what is and is not acceptable in the app store.

I’m fine with Apple deciding that an app is unacceptable if it crashes the iPhone. If it hijacks the cellular network. If it leaks memory, data, or something.

I’m not fine with Apple censoring apps. They hold the exclusive entry for software to get installed on an iPhone or iPod Touch. There is no other authorized way to install apps, without going through the Apple app store. And that means Apple has a very serious responsibility to act honourably, and in the best interests of its customers.

The latest app store controversy is swirling around Ninjawords. An application that provides a slick UI on top of the online Wiktionary dictionary database.

Someone at Apple decided to test the app by explicitly and manually searching for “fuck” “shit” and a few other stopwords. The software was designed to disable text autocompletion for questionable terms, so the only way to find them is to type them in yourself. But the developers missed “cunt” in their autocomplete filter in the last version. So Apple responds by slapping the app with a restricted 17+ rating – meaning kids don’t have access to a good dictionary on their Apple mobile devices.

Apple, this is not cool. You don’t get to censor content, especially content in a FUCKING DICTIONARY. Jesus fucking h. christ.


ps. this screenshot was taken of the Dictionary.app that came pre-installed on my Mac – the same Dictionary.app that my 6 year old son has unrestricted access to.

Update: Phil Schiller responded to John Gruber as a result of his post on DaringFireball.net – the response is a good one, but John’s take is pretty much the same as mine – even if Apple doesn’t censor the app themselves, there is pressure put on developers to censor themselves to avoid age-restrictive ratings. The inconsistent application of these ratings means writing an app can be a bit of  crap shoot. But, Schiller’s email is a very good sign.

6 thoughts on “on censorship in the Apple app store”

  1. Go D’Arcy Go.
    I’m really wondering if Apple hasn’t turned into the big brother that they warned us about in their famous “1984” mac commercial.

    1. that’s the thing – I’d be willing to bet that Apple _isn’t_ big brother, and that they have no desire to become that. I’d also be willing to bet that this is the result of poor communication within Apple – why would they deny a dictionary app that contains the same content that they have in their very own dictionary installed on every Mac on the planet? It’s not a company policy, it’s shitty communication within Apple, possibly confounded by unclear or incomplete policies in the App Store team. I’d also be willing to bet that Steve Jobs would be super-pissed about this.

      1. Nor references to female dogs or donkeys. Biology seems to be a particularly scatalogical field (pun absolutely intended).

        Assholes, or should I say anal sphincters.

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