Apple’s hypocrisy with regard to the App Store is something I know well. Several times last year I wrote about Apple allowing apps like “Asian Boobs” and upskirt apps into the App Store while rejecting things such as satirical apps that mocked public figures. It was ridiculous. So you might think I’d be happy that Apple is now rejecting and removing sexy apps from the App Store as well. But actually, the hypocrisy is much worse now.
Problem number one is that while Apple is removing most of these sexy apps from the App Store, it’s not removing all of them. So who gets to stay? Big publishers like Sports Illustrated and Playboy. In fact, not only is Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit 2010 app not being removed, it’s being featured in the App Store. Both it and the Playboy app clearly violate the new rules of the more prudish App Store, yet they get to stay. Why?
As Apple VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller explained earlier to the New York Times, it’s because they’re well-known companies known for that content. Yet, he also cited women being upset about feeling degraded and parents being upset about kids having access to sexy apps as the main reason Apple is cracking down on them. The omission of the fact that parents probably also don’t want their kids downloading the Playboy app, or that some women might also find the Swimsuit app degrading is laughable.
Now, are some apps worse than others with regard to sexy content? Of course. But Apple has removed over 5,000 apps and counting under these new rules — surely some of those would likely be considered less offensive then the Playboy app. Further, this is creating the ultimate gray line when it comes to what is and what is not permissible in the App Store. For example, what if there’s a smaller publication also known for nude pictures that wants to make a lingerie app? Will Apple reject or accept that? Is there a certain circulation threshold one has to have to be considered “well-known” in Schiller’s words?
Problem number two is that Apple is breaking a golden rule: don’t take away what you’ve already given (in this case, to both developers and users). Apple has not always allowed these sexy apps in the App Store. But at some point over the past several months they changed their minds and apps like “Asian Boobs” started getting accepted. Why did they do it? At the time, the thought was that with the new parental controls in the iPhone OS 3.0, they could leave it up to parents to decide what their children can or cannot download/use.
Apple was probably happy to let another huge rush of apps into the store, while yes, generating revenue off of them. Meanwhile, this spawned a wave of developers who were making these types of apps. Several of those developers have reached out to us over the past few days basically saying that Apple has just destroyed their businesses. Again, businesses that these people would not have created without Apple approving these apps in the first place. Apple giveth, Apple taketh away.
Problem number three is related to number two. I fail to see the reason that Apple built parental controls into the iPhone OS if they weren’t to be used for situations like this. Why even bother? For games with violence? Please. I’m all for kids not having access to mature content if their parents are against it, but that’s exactly what these controls are made for.
So why is Apple making this big change that is pissing a lot of people off if they have this safeguard in place? Clearly, they must not trust it. But if that’s the case, why not remove the explicit content from iTunes? After all, the parental controls for apps are in the exact same place as the ones from music, movies, and TV shows.
Problem number four is perhaps my favorite one. Apple is going through all this trouble of removing these apps, and creating more work in scanning for the next sexy apps to reject, when built into every iPhone and iPod touch is not one, but two huge entry points for explicit material — and both are apps made by Apple themselves. The first, I alluded to above: iTunes. There are no shortage of films and TV shows with nudity and sexual content (along with violence and everything else) that are available on iTunes for purchase on the device. The same is true for explicit music.
But the second app is far worse: Safari. Each iPhone and iPod touch has a web browser that is more than capable of accessing any site on the web with a few clicks. This includes sites with hardcore pornography, or anything else a teenage kid can dream up. Apple is going through all this trouble to block sexy apps (which have never contained nudity, by the way, just sexy pictures), when they offer one of their own that makes it much easier to find far more sinister content.
Of course, if they removed Safari, it could well destroy the iPhone. So they’re not going to do that.
The sad truth is that while everyone can clearly see Apple’s hypocrisy here, it’s unlikely to matter. Just as with all the hoopla over the Google Voice app rejection, this too will blow over. As long as people keep voting for Apple with their pocketbooks, Apple will continue to do as it pleases, hypocrisy or not.
The lesson, I suppose, is that killer products give you carte blanche.