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Apple's Vice Squad Raids the iPhone App Store


Over the past week, literally thousands of sexually themed "apps" -- programs that download to Apple's iPhone and iTouch devices -- were removed from the incredibly popular online Apple App Store. The sudden raid by the corporation's virtual vice squad has left some applauding while others are steaming over what appears to be ham fisted corporate censorship.


Various reasons have cropped up as to why this took place, but yesterday (Feb. 23, 2010) in the New York Times, Apple's head of product marketing, Philip Schiller, offered some "official" reasons ranging from a small number of developers who were submitting an "increasing number of apps containing very objectionable content," "women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable," and (our favorite) "parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see."


Interestingly, aside from parents and others who are happy to see a little less skin and sex in every corner of society, many developers (software programmers and writers) are also supporting the move. An article on the IT trade website InformationWeek.com says a thread written on Apple's own discussion forum has many developers and users of the devices upset at the weak nature of the App Store's current Parental Controls. Says a poster called TriMom_Gwen:


I am extremely upset that I purchased a $200 item for my son, set the parental controls to his age group (11), and when I went on with him to choose applications, I had BOOBS staring me in the face! If even the typed word is offensive to you, imagine how I felt with my 11 & 8 year-old sons standing there!


In an editorial, popular computer site PCWorld.com says Apple's "Porn Purge is a Smart Move," suggesting that if the company is wanting its iTouch and new iPad to be standard equipment in schools across America, "Apple must squash the impression that the App Store is a haven for smut."


So it appears Apple has succumbed to the public masses that are demanding things get cleaned up, right? Not so fast my loyal PTC reader... as I was authoring this today, a new article popped up on my radar from a UK website, theregister.co.uk. It turns out that earlier today (February 24, 2010) developers have noticed a new "tag" has appeared when they submit their applications to Apple for approval. (A "tag" is used to categorize which category the app should be sold under.) Amongst classifications like Games, News, Travel and Business the new label Explicit now appears.


To clarify, Apple's App Store has always had a parental filter that prevented young people from purchasing explicit applications from the store. What has triggered the complaints is that even if you don't purchase an app, you can still see plenty of skin and sex just by browsing through the app store. By adding the new Explicit tag, it appears Apple is looking for a compromise. Adult apps will be given the new tag, and a setting will likely appear in the next version of iTunes that will allow parents to block apps with this designation from appearing.


This new development truly isn't surprising. Apple, like many companies in our free world, appears happy to make money from soft-core porn. However, we should still be pleased they had the smarts to recognize they would risk a good portion of their business if they didn't do something to help solve this problem for parents and other concerned parties.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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