Investigating the App Store Controversy: It’s Not Morality, It’s Business

by Matt Klassen on March 1, 2010

This past week Apple certainly stirred up some controversy by purging their wildly popular App Store of suggestive and inappropriate content. Caught up in this seemingly moralistic purge was anything considered sexually provocative, sexually suggestive, or even made by someone who, at one point, may have been sexually active.

Like a mob hit or a CIA cover up, the apps in question disappeared quickly and quietly, with no explanation given to designers, save a form letter after the fact stating that their apps had been flagged for sexual content and subsequently removed. No warning, no nothing. Even Apple’s attempt at developing an Explicit Content section seems to have been incredibly short lived, as it was there and gone within one day.

The real controversy, however, started over who Apple allowed to remain on the App Store. As our own bloggers have noted, it was surprising to see that Playboy and Sports Illustrated, both of whom provide apps that are more sexually provocative than 90 percent of what was removed, were allowed to stay. Apple’s reasoning? Both were already established brands, meaning that they’ve peddled skin for a lot longer than most app developers, and their availability isn’t exclusive to Apple’s App store, meaning that Apple can, in good conscience, not take responsibility for their content.

If this all seems a little crazy to you, you’re not alone. Even amidst Apple doing some serious backpedaling over the weekend and allowing a significant number of the banned apps to return, it seems like Apple’s moralistic crusade has more twists and turns than an amusement park roller-coaster. But the important question for me is not just the censorship issue over who was removed, or the hypocrisy issue over who wasn’t, but instead, why cave to this pressure now?

Because let’s face it folks, Apple doesn’t want people to stop paying for their mobile porn. It’s an important source of revenue, especially considering that for some reason these apps are still purchased despite the fact that Apple continues to give away porn for free everyday with a little thing called ‘Safari’. The only reason, it seems, that Apple would cave to this pressure is that there’s a bigger market at stake here. And what’s the only market bigger than porn in the world? Well, there isn’t one, but education is a close second.

Many analysts and bloggers are speculating that Apple has finally caved to pressure from family and women’s groups simply because of the impending release of the iPad. As the AppleInsider speculates, Apple will almost certainly pitch their new device “as a multimedia accessory that can serve as an e-reader of novels and textbooks. The new hardware will also have access to the App Store and its library of more than 140,000 applications. Its potential adoption in the education market could have played a part in Apple’s decision to remove sexual content.”

It seems to me that Apple would never become the morality police if there wasn’t money it for them. I mean, why else would anyone listen to the conservative right except to discover how to profit off their puritan views? While we may think that Apple is taking a moral stand, declaring that sex is shameful (but only now, and only because someone else said it was), it stands to reason that if the lure of the education market demands the removal of a few subpar bikini apps, it’s just good business.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jordan Richardson March 1, 2010 at 7:16 am

Apple’s done these sorts of “content purges” since the inception of the App Store, so it isn’t as if this is just happening now for the first time. They’ve ridded the place of a few fart apps, for instance, but left the “shake your baby to death” app until parents groups complained. And so on. Consistency isn’t their strong suit and it just seems that they have no real regulatory plan for the App Store, which has been driving developers nuts since the thing opened in July of 2008.

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