There are iPhone apps for absolutely everything — well, everything except porn. Indeed, an iPhone app can now help you rid yourself of unwanted same-sex attraction. Exodus International, a group that claims to be able to cure people of their homosexuality, has launched a free app. The mobile application has attracted a lot of criticism, and some opponents are demanding Apple remove it. Ultimately, Apple's decision to allow the app highlights the fact that the company's decisions to reject or approve programs seems completely random.
Apple's guidelines for developers state that "applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind [...] or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod Touch users."
iPhone users certainly seem to have found Exodus' app offensive, as more than 120,000 users have signed an online petition demanding it be removed. In fact, in November, Apple yanked an app version of the "Manhattan Declaration," a statement users could digitally sign to state their support for "sanctity of life," "traditional marriage," and "religious freedom." Apple bowed to pressure from another online petition, this one signed by a mere 7,000 people, which called for the app's removal, claiming it was anti-gay.
There have been numerous apps rejected or removed from Apple's online store since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. Apple has a strict no-porn policy, and they've rejected or removed multiple apps with sexual content, including some that didn't seem so offensive — the relatively tame iBoob, an app that simulated a pair of jiggling, digitized breasts, was removed from the store in 2008. An official South Park app was also banned for objectionable content, despite the fact that the entire television series is available from iTunes.
But other rejected apps make even less sense. Despite being a partner in Google's Nexus One smartphone launch, the app for the digital magazine company Issuu, which would allow for the display of newspapers and magazines on iPhones, was rejected a total of three times for undisclosed reasons. The company said on their blog that while they couldn't go into specifics, "sometimes even the very best efforts to stay open for everyone can shut you out," which may allude to Apple's notorious tendency to try to control content.
There's something to be said for free speech, and I'm not inclined to demand the removal of an app just because I find it offensive. I think Exodus International is a reprehensible organization, but they also have a right to their views. However, Apple has proven time and time again that they don't care much for free speech. The company has a policy of rejecting apps that criticize public figures. When confronted with the rejection of the app Freedom Time, which counted down the days until George W. Bush left office, Steve Jobs responded to the creators via email, saying, "even though my personal political leanings are democratic, I think this app will be offensive to roughly half our customers. What's the point?"
Apple would be better off if it refused to censor content, and cited the protection of free speech in response to any and all complaints. Failing that, their regulations for apps should be much more clear. As long as Apple insists on curating apps in order to protect users from content they might find objectionable, especially when their standards for doing so are so vague, they're going to run into trouble.
If the company is going to keep its censorship rules in place, then Exodus International should have their app removed — clearly a large number of iPhone and iPod Touch users have found it objectionable. If, on the other hand, they opt to allow the app, then they should revisit and relax their rules, and let people download whatever they want, instead of what Apple has judged to be appropriately inoffensive.