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With Smut Ban, App Store Exposes a Jiggly Set of Rules

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 23, 2010 5:00 AM PT

I'm both irritated and pleased that Apple is waging a war on anything sexy in its iPhone, iPod touch, and soon-to-be-released iPad App Store. The company in Cupertino has been systematically removing thousands of apps that could be construed as sexy, have adult-oriented images, or just simply show chicks in bikinis -- wait, now that's a great idea for an app. Imagine this: little yellow baby chickens running around the barnyard wearing cute bikinis or banana hammocks. There's nothing sexy about that, and I'm betting Apple would approve it, too -- as long as it doesn't let you wiggle or jiggle anything.

With Smut Ban, App Store Exposes a Jiggly Set of Rules

Oh, and hey, if there are any developers out there who want to take this idea and run with it, go for it, but when you make money off of it, remember me -- I could use a new MacBook Pro.

Why I'm Pleased

First of all, the last thing I want in my personal experience with the App Store is having to wade through a bunch of stupid apps. I don't have time to flick through lists of jiggling booty and wobbling booby apps, much less play with them. Then there were all the girls-in-bikinis sorts of apps, too. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of bikinis -- I just don't like them getting in my way.

Before Apple's massive purge, which AppShopper reports kicked well over 5,000 apps to the curb, I've been surprised at the number of annoying sex-oriented apps cluttering up the App Store top lists.

Similarly, think of the children! Apple's iPod touch is a no doubt a runaway hit. It's clearly replacing the built-in DVD players in minivans, and it's much better than portable DVD players parents have been strapping to the back of seats for road trips. I've seen two-year-olds who know how to swipe and tap their way into Thomas the Train videos, and I've seen eight-year-olds who can navigate the App Store and download applications with their iTunes Gift Card account balances.

Are all these apps, cluttering up the top 25 lists, what we want to teach our children is what is most important?

I think that's just sad.

Of course, Apple does have a pretty good "Restrictions" feature that parents can use to block much of this content. The problem is making parents aware of it. To use it, a parent has to be aware that the objectionable content exists and then figure out how to lock it down, and quite frankly, a lot of parents are either too busy to spend much time with an iPod touch or are not technically savvy enough to realize the parental controls exist. The existence of ignorant parents isn't an excuse to lock a device down, but it is a reality of our world.

The App Store Is Not the Web

Of course, these are apps that people choose to install, right? So what's the big deal? No one is forcing you or a kid to install these dubious apps. If an adult or teenager wants to find hardcore content, what's to stop them from simply browsing the World Wide Web via Safari? The answer: Not much. Sure, you can use the Apple restriction settings for Safari, too, but again, parents have to be aware of the restrictions and use them. So what's the difference?

The difference is that I don't have to work my way around the hardcore sites in order to find what I want on the Web via a browser. With the App Store, prior to Apple's purge, you had to browse your way around and beyond these apps. That's irritating for me, and it's bad for kids.

Why I'm Irritated

First of all, Apple's clarity on App Store rules, to both developers and to consumers, is pathetic. There's a stark lack of visibility into the process. Why are apps rejected? There doesn't have to be a dark cloud over all of this or a bunch of draconian non-disclosure agreements. I expect more out of Apple, and here's why: Apple promotes and sets up its App Store as a distribution method where developers can create apps to run on its platform. Cool. On the flip side, Apple has also managed to set up an expectation of fairness, guidelines and rules.

I actually think Apple would be better off simply clearly stating that Apple isn't fair, and that all apps that are included are chosen by Apple: "If we like them, they get in; if we don't, they get rejected." This sort of stance is nothing new to other creative professionals. Take writers, for example. If a guy writes a novel, it's only going to get published if a publisher likes it, and if a publisher doesn't care about it, too bad. But what about all that work? The painstaking hours upon late-night hours? Sorry. It's a fickle process, and yet plenty of great books are published each year. Same goes for movies. Apple is in the distribution business, and you don't have to be fair to be in the distribution business.

So I'm saying that Apple should either a) tell the world it's only going to approve what it thinks is cool in Cupertino, or b) offer up exacting guidelines so that any developer with half a brain would understand where the lines are. I think either option is perfectly acceptable, and here's why: Both options express clarity. Apple would admit its process is subject to its opinion or to its guidelines -- so pick one, because no one likes a fence sitter.

My Phone, My Apps

Second, I'm irritated because we're in a position where a company is choosing the content that we have available to us via a very important device -- our mobile phone. We understand that these devices are basically computers, and beyond some FCC regulations for signal interference, a mobile phone ought to be able to be used to its full potential. It's sticky, right, because we're talking technology, and tech isn't necessarily beneficial. Above all, a phone has to be utterly stable. An iPod touch, not such a big deal if it crashes or multiple apps suck the battery dry by 11 a.m.

But there's plenty of room for applications that do not affect the processor and basic functions of the device. It doesn't sit well with me that anyone in the USA gets to get all puritanical over breasts and have a large-scale effect over what people are "allowed" to do. This is a small thing that chips away at our freedom, and more importantly, I think it chips away at our ability to make good decisions for ourselves and act like freakin' adults.

The app developer ChilliFresh, by the way, posted a note about the new rules from Apple. This appears to be just one interpretation of the rules, but the point remains that the new rules seem pretty draconian: no images of women in bikinis (or ice skating tights); no men in bikinis, either; no "skin"; and no silhouettes that indicate that ChilliFresh's Wobble app could be used for wobbling boobs if an end user wanted to cut and paste their own photos into the app. Plus, no sexual connotations or innuendo, and nothing that could be sexually arousing.

Meanwhile, the official Playboy app is available in the App Store for $0.99, and just to check, I bought it: Tara Reid is on the cover, there is a lot of skin, and she's looking fantastic. (Right, I was surprised, too.) Diving a little deeper into the content, there's the generally well-respected Playboy interview, but there's also photos of scantily clad women (but all technically covered by articles of clothing).

Then there's also SI Swimsuit 2010, which is free, and promises photos of the hottest models in the world. I downloaded that one, too. Brooklyn Decker was on the cover, and I'm pretty sure her hair was altered to make it look arousing. Plus, as near as I could tell, it definitely features photos of women in bikinis, and I'm pretty sure they are shown in intentionally arousing sorts of positions. If I upgrade for just $1.99, though, I can get "soccer stars' wives and girlfriends in bodypaint!"

So come on, Apple, what's it going to be? Will you yank Playboy and the swimsuit app, too? And when you do, will you reach out to my iPhone and yank it off there, as well?

Fortunately, even if Apple yanks these apps, there are others that Apple seems to think are perfectly acceptable. For instance, how about "Sexy Drag Racer Car"? This app says you can, "Attract women and sexy girls with your own hot virtual drag racer car. Show them the stuff and add a neat bar trick to your collection of pickups."

Uh, yeah. What's worse? Girls in bikinis or an app that promises to help an idiot pick up a girl in a bar by revving the engine of a virtual drag racer car?

Really?

If you had a teenager for a son, for example, would you rather let him download Sexy Drag Racer Car or an app that shows women in bikinis? I tell you, if parents should be protecting their children, it should be with life lessons that teach them that virtual drag racing cars on mobile phones do not help anyone pick up women.

As for the App Store and Apple's happy little crackdown? The sad thing is, I don't see a real solution anywhere in sight.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.


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