The New App Store Rules: No Swimsuits, No Skin, And No Innuendo

Over the last few days we’ve been tracking Apple’s recent decision to remove all sexual content from the App Store. It’s an alarming move on Apple’s part, if only because it shows that the company is willing to throw developers (and their livelihoods) under the bus without any notice at all. Now developers are left wondering: just what exactly is allowed on the App Store? As it turns out, the new policy may be even more restrictive than it first appeared.

Earlier this week, when Apple notified developers that their applications were being removed, it said that it was removing applications with “overtly sexual content”. That sounds like the ban only extends to apps that are little more than soft core porn. But we’re hearing from multiple developers that it actually means anything that could be even the slightest bit titillating in any way — including swimsuits and fitness outfits. In short, if your app has skin, it will probably be rejected.

One developer, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to multiple App Store reviewers about the new policy. He was told, “there will be no more applications that are for any purpose of excitement or titillation”. He was told this included swimsuits — both bikinis and one-piece suits. Along with having dozens of his “sexy” apps removed, Apple also removed one that featured a popular fitness model in her workout clothes (the app was a marketing vehicle for the athlete’s line of protein powder). When he asked if the ban would also affect apps like Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit application, the Apple employee wouldn’t give a clear answer, but it was implied that the SI app would probably be removed as well.

Developer Jon Atherton, who is behind the popular application Wobble (which doesn’t actually include any sexual photos), also spoke to an Apple employee, and posted this list of rules to his blog based on what he learned:

1. No images of women in bikinis (Ice skating tights are not OK either)

2. No images of men in bikinis! (I didn’t ask about Ice Skating tights for men)

3. No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)

4. No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes – I am serious, we have to remove the silhouette in this pic)

5. No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex – all banned

6. Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (I doubt many people could get aroused with the pic above but those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble “overtly sexual!)

7. No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content (not sure how Playboy is still in the store, but …)

As far as we can tell, Apple hasn’t spelled out its new policies anywhere (our request for more details has gone unanswered).  Keep in mind that these rules may not be set in stone — Apple is purposely vague about its policies, and they’re probably still changing.

These moves are pretty ridiculous given the fact that the iPhone offers a full set of parental controls — Apple should have just blocked the applications from view of anyone who wasn’t old enough to see them. But the real issue with all this, as I outlined yesterday, is how callous Apple is being with regard to the well-being of iPhone developers. It’s easy to paint anyone behind a “sexy” iPhone app as a scumbag, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of young men have iPhones, and they’re willing to pay a few dollars for sexy photos — it’s business. There are magazine empires that are built around this very principle.

The developer who I spoke to says that he’s spent the last year regularly speaking to Apple representatives, attempting to tweak his “sexy” apps to accommodate Apple’s constantly evolving standards. He was told things like (paraphrased) “a woman can be pictured in a bathing suit, but she can’t have her thumb on the suit’s strings” — because that would have been too sexually suggestive. He’d make the modifications and resubmit, oftentimes only to have another photo get called out for an equally bizarre reason. During these back-and-forths he was told that things would get better when the iPhone’s parental controls came out. And that was true for a little while, until Apple changed its mind.

After making around $30,000 last year from the App Store, he’s essentially lost his income.  And Wobble’s company, which was pulling in around $500 a day, is now making less than $10.  Apple gave these developers the green light to build “sexy” apps, and now that they’ve built businesses around them, it’s tossing them aside without so much as an apology.  To Apple, they’re expendable.