Eleven days ago, the following status appeared on my Twitter feed:
The link led to an online petition. Apple had approved an application for its App Store for “curing” homosexuals, and given it a “4+” rating, indicating that it is suitable for anybody over the age of three years old.
You can see that over 150,000 people have signed the online petition, and — for what must be the first time in recorded history — an online petition actually resulted in the sought-after change.
Removing the application was the right thing to do, from several perspectives. But perhaps more importantly, it was the wrong thing to do. We think it should be fairly obvious as to why it was the right thing to do from a human perspective (really? a gay cure app?) and a corporate perspective (they do not want to appear homophobic), so instead we will concentrate on …
Why it is wrong
Reason 1: The content police
The only reason why this was Apple’s problem in the first place is their position regarding their brand and the iPhone. In short, they consider any and all content that appears on an iPhone to be part of the Apple experience and reflect Apple values.
This means two things:
First, due to this position and the application approval process, it must be taken as assumed that Apple approves of everything that appears on your phone. They approve of $99 in-game charges in kids games. They disapprove of breasts. They approve of homophobia. They disapprove of any mention of rival devices and Sony e-Readers.
These are simple conclusions that can be drawn from Apple’s own practices and policies.
These practices, however, butt up against their market position. They are not the #1 smart phone in the world. But they are in the running, and their biggest advantage is the scope of their App Store. So they need to keep the new applications coming in, in numbers greater than Android.
It cannot be possible to police the content of these applications. But they claim to do so, and boldly reject applications on occasion, likely to point out that they are policing their apps.
Nobody expects Exodus to be anything but homophobic. But claiming to have reviewed and approved content from Exodus puts Apple in that same boat.
Second, it means that end-users cannot have the content they want on their phone. The homophobes are left without their homophobic app. The porn-lovers are left without their goatse app. And while many of us will say that we are fine with that, it seems odd that Apple should get to decide what is (and is not) allowed to run on this small computer that I have bought and paid for.
The choice not to sell the Exodus application was the right one. But not as right as taking a hands-off approach to the content of applications would be.
Reason 2: The petition police
Apparently we were wrong. Apple has removed applications as the result of petitions before. Last time, the petition had 7,000 signatures.
And while we at the Big Bad Blog disapprove of both of the applications that have been removed following a petition, we are a bit worried.
An online petition? With 7,000 signatures?
We think of Proposition 8 in California, far right “nationalist” parties across Europe, Canadians who somehow vote Conservative in election after election, despite not actually owning their own oil company.
And we see that there are, apparently, no end of people in this world who are willing to stand up and be counted for some despicable causes on the basis of little more than some angry, self-righteous rhetoric.
Apple told the Huffington Post why they removed the App:
An Apple spokesperson told the Huffington Post that Apple had removed the Exodus International app because it “[violated] our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people.”
There are large groups of people who find all sorts of different ideas offensive — evolution, for example. Does Apple intend to remove any biology/medical texts that make mention of evolution? What if there’s a petition?
What about applications supporting a particular political candidate?
Perhaps there is no slippery slope here, but from this angle it certainly seems that Apple has set itself up on one.
Here at the Big Bad Blog, we applaud the content police for this particular decision. But we cannot help but think that having content police is a bad idea in the first place.