App Store Overrun by Puritans

Tue, Mar 9, 2010

Digital Culture

App Store Overrun by Puritans

It’s something only a mullah could love. In an incredible turn of events, Apple has reportedly banned all sexual content from the App store, using an outrageously Puritanical set of rules.  No women or men in bikinis? No ice skating tights? Bye bye, Olympics apps? UPDATE:  Some sexy apps survive! How can it be? Read on….

Apple’s position appears all the more unfair and hypocritical after Phil Schiller, Apple head of worldwide production, went on the record with NY Times HERE and stated:

“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.”

When it was pointed out that Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit app is not only still for sale but also FEATURED in the iTunes store today, and yet violates the ban list reportedly delivered verbally to Wobble developer (below) Schiller added,

“The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format.”

The argument that Apple is cleaning up a locust storm of cheap sexy apps while leaving the ones from big publishers seems logical. But wait! Apparently if you’re a small developer of cheesy sex apps but have the right friends at Apple, you can still sell sex. What else could explain the persistance of the bikini-picture-laden “Porn Star Names” app? PC magazine lists surviving sexy apps from developers big and small HERE, as does The Standard HERE.

All I can say is that this is insanely inconsistent, and no way to build a sound business model to attract struggling companies that might want to enter app market.

MacWorld’s David Chartier  critiques the move HERE and concludes:

“Apparently we are now all living in Apple’s Bizarro World, where SI Swimsuit 2010 and Playboy do not garner complaints from the same parents and women who took issue with “Sexy Girls” and “iWobble.”

If SI Swimsuit 2010 and Playboy are not eventually removed along with their competition, this recent ban will mark a whole new low for Apple’s walled garden. Ambiguous, moving-target policies are one thing (and, even after a year and a half, Apple still needs to fix them). But instantly destroying the income of independent developers—no matter how useless or degrading you feel their apps may be—while allowing major publishers to peddle the same product is an entirely different thing”


Apple’s behavior begs the question, “what content will they capriciously decide to ban next?”

Might it be humorous animation with edgy language that is now permitted and sold with Apple’s 17+ rating? This de-motivates the small companies that are supposed to drive our economic recovery from taking the risk that their app could be approved by Apple for sale one day, then banned the next.

Apple apparently applies the same rule of thumb to themselves that they do to S.I. and Playboy: If you’re a big dog, you still get to sell sex.

Much more important in the grand scheme of things is how Apple’s cavalier approach to banning might impact journalism published via the iTunes Store. Dan Gillmor applies his usual cogent, big picture thinking to this problem in his blog post:  Why Journalism Organizations Should Reconsider Their Crush on Apple’s iPad

“Ultimately, I believe, the most important issue is whether news organizations should get in bed with a company that makes unilateral and non-transparent decisions like the ones Apple has been making about content in all kinds of ways. I say they should think hard about it, and answer either in the negative or insist on iron-clad contracts with Apple that prohibit the hardware company from any kind of interference with the journalism, ever.”

Just to prove that Apple’s move can’t be about responding to consumer or FCC concerns and sanitizing all content sold in the iTunes store (of which the App Store is but a part), look at the full nudity and sexy scenes in non-porno video and film content available in the iTunes store and check out the explicit language in the songs and podcasts. What would happen if Apple applied the same ban to these areas of their store?

As Developer John Atherton points out, Apple themselves use women in bikinis to sell their products, not even protecting them behind a Mature Content warning.  Bikinis! In public! Oh, Apple!

It’s disturbing enough that Apple is  acting inconsistently and apparently now banning content in Apps that is for sale in the iTunes store, and in fact meets with community standards across the US to the extent that it is on display in such public places as  billboards, mall shops, bookstores and libraries.

But it’s truly a major injustice to developers blindsided by this incomprehensible ban hammer whose businesses may fail and  who may face personal financial crises for guessing, based on Apple’s past behavior, that they would be safe publishing inoccuous images of models.

TechCrunch has the original story HERE — and updates HERE (a great one!) as well as HERE.

A mild swimwear app was deleted, potentially damaging  that company’s budding business. Apple was silent. Fellow app developers suggested that they might resubmit with an age restriction.  Before they could follow these directions, suddenly the app was reinstated without comment four days later. CEO Gerrard Dennis said he won’t abandon Apple’s App Store, but

“we will now explore other platforms as a safety net against this sort of thing happening again.”

This piece covers the incongruity of eliminating one, but not the other, sexy app from a big, new publisher —  Suicide Girls — while sparing ones from big, old publishers.  Missy Suicide was forthright and insightful in a subsequent interview.  I only wish Apple could be so direct:

“I understand Apple’s problem, they wouldn’t mind some R-rated content if it was all as high production value as a R-rated studio movie or a premium cable series like Californication or Rome (both of which have simulated fucking and full frontal male and female nudity), but they found instead tons of recycled soft-core tacky porn content. And, thanks to the reality of human nature, these crappy, recycled boobie Apps were very popular and so were all over the most visible pages in the App store.

Bummer for Apple, we get it. We hate all the crappy low-grade porn all over the Internet, too. But what kind of clear-cut rules are going to solve this problem? It’s essentially a judgment call. We’re glad one of our Apps made it so far, and we’re going to try to create unique sexy Apps in the future and see what happens.”

So why ban “Flip-Strip,” which had no “over nudity” and showed girls in a bra and panties much like a mild Victoria’s Secret catalogue, while allowing “Seduce a Suicide Girl”?

“I think Steve Jobs must have successfully seduced Zoli, in Seduce a Suicide Girl, and is anxiously awaiting our iPad version.”


Atherton, developer of the application Wobble (it has no sexy pictures at all, just a way for users to tag them) posted this list of rules to his blog based on what he reportedly learned from Apple:

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 Wobble pic. 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…)


The WSJ’s Kara Swisher provides a counterpoint HERE in which she lampoons “overheated bloggers” as the only ones who care — missing the issues of unfair and cavalier treatment of  small businesses and the disconnect of letting technology companies control the content we see.

Going even further, PC World calls Apple’s move  a “smart business decision.”

“As for the iPad, it’s clear that Apple will position its new tablet not only as a consumer device for the home, but also as an educational tool. Software developers are already designing interactive textbooks for the iPad, according to reports. Again, Apple must squash the impression that the App Store is a haven for smut to increase the odds of classroom sales. A few negative news stories about wobbly-boob apps could very well spur many school districts to think twice about adding the iPad as a study tool.

Bottom line: Contrarian Swisher opines that “The porn purge is a smart business move on Apple’s part, even if it appears prudish to outsiders.”

And what about Japanese manga, which comes from a culture that is far more cavalier about cleavage? So far, Apple’s censorship of popular non-pornographic manga from Kodansha has the Japanese publishers shaking their heads in disbelief.

Read more about iPhone Manga HERE on Eastern Standard

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