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Apple: The New Mary Whitehouse? Discuss.

Paul Nesbitt

Apple's extraordinary decision to block 5,000 iPhone apps from the App Store underlines the bizarre corner Apple is backing itself into a corner by acting as some kind of moral authority.

And Apple's decision to move the goalposts about what it does and does not allow poses worrying implications for anyone considering developing for the iPhone.

Worse still, Apple's decision to stop iPhone users from downloading apps which range from mildly purile to pornographic has been inconsistent at best, and probably hypocritical.

One developer, John Atherton, who had his iPhone app (called Wobble - 'Add realistic 3D wobbly bits to your iPhone photos') taken down from the App Store recalled his conversation with Apple. Atherton said that Apple told him that its new policies meant that there can be:

    •    "No images of women in bikinis"
    •    "No images of men in bikinis!"
    •    "No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)"
    •    "No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes – I am serious)"
    •    "No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex – all banned"
    •    "Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble “overtly sexual!)"
    •    "No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content"

And yet Apple has not banned iPhone apps produced by Playboy, Victoria's Secret and other large publications like the US Sports Illustrated, which features 'swimsuit editions.'

Apple has already made itself a laughing stock for earlier arbitrary bans of apps, and now it is getting itself even further into trouble. Since when did a company founded by a man (Steve Jobs) who openly took acid and illegally hacked AT&T phone networks have the right to determine what's appropriate for adults to watch on a device they own?

Apple doesn't have enough time or resources to keep up with app store programs as it is, let alone start applying tests for smut.

And since iPhone OS 3, it's possible to limit access to minors to apps and websites, so Apple should not be in the business of determining what apps are acceptable for the rest of us.

Worse still, for the company, because Apple has an approval process, the applications that it passes as acceptable are now Apple-approved. Therefore if something unpleasant sneaks in, Apple is culpable. At least with the Android Market, Google makes no attempt to limit apps, and therefore can't be blamed for them. Just like the PC market really.

There's a grimly surreal irony that Apple, which claims to be dedicated to the maverick outsiders, and which itself was a product of the late 60s counter-culture is now re-enacting censorship rules which could have come directly from Mary Whitehouse herself.

We laugh at the arcane law which means you cannot read certain works of the Marquis De Sade at the British Library unless you are watched over the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is even more stupid, and unsustainable. 



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