Apple Censors Sexy Apps

Four days after shocking some users by suddenly removing over 5,000 apps with sexually-explicit content form the App Store, Apple (a) started talking about the decision and (b) created a new category called “explicit” apps. Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of worldwide product marketing, told the New York Times:

It came to the point where 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.

As the NYT reports, “Many software developers have long complained about Apple’s strict screening process and, at times, seemingly arbitrary decisions about what was acceptable in the App Store.” Tech bloggers have noted that Playboy and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit apps were untouched, while lesser-known developers had their salacious creations pulled.
If you connect the dots here, it seems pretty clear. Apple made a decision to block some unsavory apps based on an economic decision (women, target consumers, complained, as did parents). They knocked off the smaller app producers as a gesture of caring about sexism without pissing off their big friends, like Playboy and SI.
I’m not necessarily arguing that any of this should be censored. I don’t know enough about the ways in which apps function (truth be told, I don’t have an iPhone) and I’m generally one to fall in the free speech camp on most issues. But it’s pretty clear that Apple is just watching their own asses, financially-speaking, not trying to actually explore the idea of creating a brand that appeals to progressive folks who care about things like, say, little girls not growing up to feel like their power lies in having a perfect body fit for iPhone apps.
I know that Apple is, at its core, a massive corporation that wants to make money, but is it really too much to expect that one of the world’s most creative companies might come up with a creative solution for all this objectification? It’s particularly disheartening that they’re so blase and bottom line about it when so many are innovating at the intersections of profit and nonprofit, social enterprise and market opportunism.
For more see TechCrunch and Huffington Post.
See also:
New iPhone app rates your attractiveness
Need a hymen? There’s an app for that.*
I knew there was a reason I didn’t want an iPhone
The iGrope?
Thanks to Jaime for the heads up.

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7 Comments

  1. MM
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    In response to the question “is it really too much to expect that one of the world’s most creative companies might come up with a creative solution for all of this objectification?”
    In a word, yes. It is not too much to ask that they try, but given that feminists have been trying to figure out for decades how to walk to line between placing reasonable limits on degrading speech and censorship, I am confused as to why we would have expected Apple to figure it out. There is no question that if you were to posit the question on this blog of if the simsuit edition and Playboy should be banned there would be aboslutely no hope of reaching any agreement. How can we expect Apple to have figured out the answer?
    Apple drew a line that was not perfect in order to eliminate some degrading apps, perhaps to make more money or perhaps in an honest attempt to address women’s concerns (to the extent that these can even be separated). I guess i am just wondering, if what they did was so wrong, what would you have them do?

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Playboy and SI peddle a kind of horrifying idea of what constitutes sexually attractive, with airbrush always at the ready.

  3. Femgineer
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Hold on…CHILDREN have iphones?

  4. geek_girl
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Was it censoring when Amazon removed the rape games? No, it was good economic/publicity sense. Why would Apple be any different?
    Apple retains exclusive rights to remove content for pretty much any reason at all from their phone. They’re not a company known for explaining themselves, and they ARE known for lots of CYA tactics.
    In the games industry, you kind of have to.
    There’s all of these ratings boards and other things, and Apple lets you just download apps. Parental controls on an iPhone only work if the parent is technologically gifted enough to work them.

  5. Mytrr
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    At the very least, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to make it a little more difficult to access racy material. As far as I know, it’s not difficult to access apps that do things like add jiggle to a photo. I know it’s not perfect, but requiring users to submit basic info, like a birthdate, when acquiring an app and restricting it to users 18 and older may or may not help. Or making such apps difficult to search for would make users actively search for their digital smut.
    I understand if censorship is an issue, but MY issue is that the iPhone is aimed at professionals, and yet I hear more about the racier apps than I do about apps that are actually useful, like iWreck. And it’s not just the discussions I see on feminist sites, but mainstream sources as well. I feel like the iPhone has the potential to be an incredibly useful tool and is definitely going to influence future tech, but unnecessarily sexist apps and other fluff might put a lot of people off. I think it’s awesome to have a small device to access the internet, call other individuals, organize without paper and so on. It’s so Star Trek or something, but these apps do more to turn women off and make the iPhone seem like just another man-toy. That’s really my issue, that another good idea is going to get buried under the same old sexist shit we see everywhere else.

  6. CBrachy
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    John Gruber makes a strong argument that it’s not about breasts or money, it’s about branding. His argument is that because Apple gets a percentage cut of every app shipped, economics would favor having more apps. Instead, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and Victoria’s Secret get a pass because they are “quality” brands. It’s not really about women, it’s about what Apple sees as too cheesy for their corporate image.

  7. southern students for choice
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Barring games from Apple’s app store that have overtly violent or pornographic content is of course reasonable, and the same might be argued for a clutter of apps with cheesecake content, like arguably includes the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. The inclusion of a few apps like those mentioned above, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and Victoria’s Secret, might be as much to reduce the sheer number of apps like this in their store, whatever the quality of the content from those companies might be.
    It’s maybe of greater concern than arguing whether or not Apple should carry an app with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models if any of these rules might affect feminist-targeted software with erotic or sexually oriented content. That is, if there is any out there for the iphone, or any mobile phone or handheld computer.
    But come to think of it, we can’t think of any that is. Are there any apps like that out there, and if not, what might be good for a developer to create, and should Apple be expected to carry it in it’s store?

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