Hi, please

Initial Thoughts on Apple’s Anti-Porn Crusade

So as some of you may have heard, Apple has banned certain apps from their App Store for having sexual content in it. This does not come as a big surprise given the stance Apple has been taking over controlling contents on their products. Apple would be anti-open source that we discussed last week in class. However, what is causing controversy and concern is that the line between what is allowed and what is banned is not clear.

According to Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, the ban was due to “an increasing number of apps containing very objectionable content….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.” Really, Schiller? I don’t question the fact that they may have gotten complaints from super-conservative or super-liberal activist groups (As I was writing this, I found it interesting that groups from both end of the spectrum could have made this move. Right-wing activists concerned with “family values” could have been involved, but also left-wing women’s right groups may have been involved. Is Apple making enemies with both ends of the politics?) However, what defines “very objectionable content”? Does Schiller really think we are that stupid to believe that Apple is banning apps for the good of mankind?

So the image on the left is a Sports Illustrated application which has not been banned, and the image on the right is an application from On the Go Girls which has been banned. The two apps from pictures look very similar to me. They both show women in bikinis, but what exactly separates the two? What is the difference? Nobody seems to be able to answer this. In fact, Playboy app has not been banned either. Jenna Wortham, the author of the New York Times article, asked Schiller about this very point, and I was utter amazed by his answer: ““The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format.” So let me get this straight, Mr. Schiller. If you are a big company and a known commodity that show women in bikini you are okay, but if you are a smaller no name company who wants to show the same exact pictures you are no good? As many in the class know, I tend to be very business friendly and lean right on the political spectrum. But what Schiller says come across “evil” even to me. Does Apple want to make their App Store into a political and business power negotiating field? A way they can build diplomatic relationships and make business agreements to further their agendas? I cannot but associate this to the iPad development. Sports Illustrated was one of the few publications given access to and ability develop iPad ready magazines. If Apple had banned their Sports Illustrated Swimsuits Edition from their App Store, would they have been open to showcasing their development for iPad? I am not so sure. What is next? Are they going to start banning Victoria’s Secret apps because they show Miranda Kerr in lingerie? Let’s get real, that what Victoria’s Secret makes?

Some bloggers have been very kind to explore this topic on their own for quite a bit. Here are some Joel Jonson of Gizmodo found that has not been banned, but could perfectly be as offensive or even more offensive than girls in bikinis:

1) “An app that discusses abortion and birth control law”
2) “An app that helps you hook up with gay guys”
3) “An app that teaches you how to evangelize the fundamentalist Christian religion”

Understanding the real motive behind this app banning is extremely important, but I am afraid that this will go un-acknowledged by most. Why?

1) Because not everybody really cares too much about this issue. It doesn’t really change their day-to-day lives because not everybody feels the need to “sexy” apps. Yet, I find that on principle this should be addressed.
2) Because it’s Apple. Consumers and the media tend to get so enamored with Apple that they are willing to overlook and forgive Apple. It’s Apple. So, it must be so cool. So they must be right. They are the truth. Righteous!
3) Because smaller companies getting shafted here are not powerful enough to fight against Apple.

In my following travelogues, I will attempt to take a deeper look into Apple’s motive behind these app banning of “sexual” contents. It cannot be simply for profit, because these apps bring Apple money. What is Apple gaining by sacrificing definite revenue opportunity? Of course, my investigation will be mostly indirect inferences, but let’s hope we get more insight into this topic.

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  1. Leslie 21:25, Feb 28th, 10

    I think it might have something to do with the context of how the girls are presented. With the particular example above, the Sports Illustrated app is a tasteful representation of a girl in a bikini, not putting her into any kind of submissive/subservient role. She could even be seen as embracing her femininity. It’s perfectly acceptable for women to go to the beach in bikinis. But, with the picture on the right, (done by an indie developer?), puts the girl into a submissive role- as a “servant,” which is much more controversial and could be considered more degrading then just being dressed up in a bikini.

    I’m not sure what the Playboy app looks like, but I would assume it’s more tasteful than the right app example?

    I don’t think the tastefullness is in what they’re wearing, but in how they’re presented and what they’re doing. I’d be curious to learn how concerned Apple is with the nudity, vs the context in which it’s presented.

    Also, maybe Apple’s concerned that if anyone can submit material like that, the app store could get flooded with this sexual content. So, they’re trying to weed out the indie developers that might make more controversial content, vs the mainstream companies like Sports Illustrated and Playboy.

  2. ElzbthMllr 09:54, Mar 1st, 10

    I find this totally ridiculous (the fact that Apple will do this and get away with it) – not your question. Your question and take on this so far are obviously very interesting.

    A few thoughts I had on this. Since when is it up to a private company to decide what is appropriate and decent? Isn’t that the right of the court? I also disagree with Leslie, there may be slight differences in the above but I really think it has to do with the companies that are behind each of the issues and Dan has hit home by talking about Sports Illustrated’s relationship with Apple. I think I read somewhere that the Hooters app was also not banned…which seems like if you care about “decency” (which I agree doesn’t really seem to be the issue here), really should be a no-brainer.

    I think the thing that is most frustrating you touch upon is that there really is nothing that these smaller companies can do about it. If Apple wants to do it, they will do it and get away with it and can give whatever lame excuse they want. Very frustrating!

  3. Alexandra 14:20, Mar 1st, 10

    Does this apply to apps that have to do with men as well? I know you are using girls in bikinis as an example, but are there men in bathing suits in a similar situation? I know you had an example of an app that lets you find gay guys to hook up with, but can you find a similar side-by-side example for men? I’m asking because there is probably a double standard going on here. I think part of it also has to do with intention – Sports Illustrated, technically, is not intended to be porn. But a porn app, well, is. So maybe Apple is looking at it in that way. I definitely want to hear what else you find out.

  4. Ryan 15:23, Mar 1st, 10

    I believe that Apple is very smart in exerting control over the market. The iPhone as we know is in agreement with AT&T to lock purchasers into a service agreement. More so, we see this with Apple’s iTunes and the proprietary control with apps that run on apple related products. It’s all about control of the market and because Apple seems to believe that they’re product is the best – rightly so. Yet, people still find ways to circumvent this by “jailbreaking” their iPhone and risking the warranty if it doesn’t work and their iPhone becomes nothing more than a paper weight. Again, I believe it has to do with control. For example, more insight into the current ecosystem that we have that caters more to subscribers and app developers to generate profit based off of exclusion versus the option for the public to choose what app they want to use on any phone.


    >>>Does Schiller really think we are that stupid to believe that Apple is banning apps for the good of mankind? You ask -

    You’re probably right. Why should we believe Schiller that it’s banning certain apps and not others on the vague notion that its getting complaints from concerned parents and women?

    Check this out: http://www.ismashphone.com/2010/02/pubic-image-ltd-the-real-reason-apple-purged-the-naughty-apps.html

    You are right, Apple’s arbitrary nature of blocking what they choose could lead to lawsuits of discriminatory practices with those indie-companies that aren’t Sports Illustrated or Playboy >> “By asserting its right to block apps it considers offensive, Apple is implicitly endorsing what remains. And that could lead to some intriguing court cases in months to come.” This could be trouble for Apple if someone wanted to press charges.

    Read more: http://network.nationalpost.com/NP/blogs/tradingdesk/archive/2010/03/01/ban-on-sexy-apps-leaves-apple-open-to-lawsuits.aspx#ixzz0gxPmSd7h

  5. mushon 16:12, Mar 1st, 10

    Some technical notes on this very interesting topic:
    1. Please follow the guidelines of the assignment. We want to know what is the question you’re asking.
    2. I think you have been making a great summary of other people’s posts but I want you to create new information here. Meaning, I want you to be reporting, not just aggregating. One way of doing that is to try to get answers from Apple or to maybe act in the review section o the AppStore.
    3. And lastly, I think the point you’re making here is definitely “pro-business”. Anti-monopoly and pro-competition is pro-business.

  6. HoniehLayla 20:29, Mar 1st, 10


    The issue at hand here between the two apps is that Apple, in my opinion, will only deal with the big name corporations to make their money. Of course they will allow Sports Illustrated and Playboy to publish their apps.

    1) They are reputable companies
    2) Both make an excessive amount of money
    3) They both have the ability to serve content in a fashion that Apple wants without trying to break the rules.

    I don’t agree with Apple’s decision, but if they did allow every Joe, Mike and Ed to create a dirty app, then the store would be bombarded with a lot of garbage and bad press for Apple. They would never want to tarnish their squeaky clean image.