Friday, February 26, 2010

Is it a censorship to be worried about?

Apple has recently cracked down on pornographic apps in the App Store. Of course, anything related to such a topic seems to bring about a lot of controversy, with arguments thrown left and right how the apps are degrading to women. However, people are now trashing Apple, saying they are being unfair to developers and are overall hypocritical. Unfortunately, the entire situation is not as clear as it seems, and bloggers took advantage of this to thoroughly deride Apple, sometimes with reason, sometimes without.

Probably one of the more popular opinions is MG Siegler from TechCrunch, who posts the numerous problems with Apple's deal. Apple outraged some and confuses many by taking down most of the pornographic apps, but leaving the big names up, like Playboy. One would think it has something to do with money, but John Gruber quickly disperses this theory, reasoning that Apple would not have taken down the best-selling of these apps if it was about money. Phil Schiller from Apple said that it was because these companies have been distributing such content in an "well-accepted format" for a long time. Quite frankly, this sounds ridiculous. If they removed the apps because of user complaints that they were degrading to women, why would well-acceptable formats be an exception to such an ethical issue. But even if users cannot find a legitimate reason for Apple leaving some questionable apps in the store, the move makes them deserving of the criticism they are getting.

The more interesting problem Siegler discusses is hypocrisy. He says:

Apple is going through all this trouble of removing these apps, and creating more work in scanning for the next sexy apps to reject, when built into every iPhone and iPod touch is not one, but two huge entry points for explicit material — and both are apps made by Apple themselves. The first, I alluded to above: iTunes. There are no shortage of films and TV shows with nudity and sexual content (along with violence and everything else) that are available on iTunes for purchase on the device. The same is true for explicit music.

But the second app is far worse: Safari. Each iPhone and iPod touch has a web browser that is more than capable of accessing any site on the web with a few clicks. This includes sites with hardcore pornography, or anything else a teenage kid can dream up. Apple is going through all this trouble to block sexy apps (which have never contained nudity, by the way, just sexy pictures), when they offer one of their own that makes it much easier to find far more sinister content.

He has a valid point that Safari allows you to go anywhere on the Internet, including content that is the same, if not worse, then the apps Apple removed. However, I believe this conception is a little skewed from the reality. I would side more with a post by Holden Page. The apps that were removed from the App Store were purposely intended to show nude or seductive women. Safari was not made with this intention. Essentially, Apple's decision to remove the pornographic apps was because women were complaining the content degraded them, and the apps were intended to display such content. I am sure if Apple hosted the pornographic content you found on the Internet, they would remove that too. However, Apple does not have control over the content on the web, and since Safari does not intend to purposely degrade women, it does not make them hypocritical.

With this put aside, was Apple right to do what they did? In my own opinion, the content on the apps does slightly degrade women. A research study done a while back showed that when women were put under the filter of sex, the section of the male brain concerning objects lit up many bright colors. In other words, porn makes men see women as objects, which is degrading. However, there are a few things that I believe override this fact. First is freedom of the Internet. Apple has the right to control what content their users get to view on their iPhone. Apple can literally say "well, too bad if you want this, go and spend another few hundred dollars on a Droid if you want it". To have the power Apple has over its users is almost criminal, and they are being very reckless with this power. Removing pornographic apps is tantamount to removing free speech from the App Store, especially since there is no other easy way to get non-App Store apps onto your iPhone (unless you jailbreak it, which Apple is also freaking out about).

The other problem with Apple's decision, as Siegler mentions, is "that Apple is breaking a golden rule: don’t take away what you’ve already given". As a programmer (though I'll admit I have never made any software for profit), I can see what the developers of the apps are feeling right now. Apple gave a business to numerous people looking to make money, then all of sudden led them to near bankruptcy. These developers have no choice but to turn to other platforms, which will not get them the same amount of revenue they would have gotten in the App Store. To be making who knows how much cash on a popular app, and all of sudden have it killed by a third party is ridiculous. One could argue these developers are "degrading women", and thus do not deserve to make such money, but then why hasn't the same argument been used for any other socially demeaning electronic content?

In conclusion, Apple needs to look more closely at its ethics. Their moral code is enough to ban degrading apps, but not enough to consider the developers behind them. Unfortunately, this whole issue will probably blow over in a few weeks, and iPhone and iPod Touch users will continue as they were before.

1 comment:

  1. developers and consumers still have a choice.. the most powerful choice of all.. reject apple.