Defending Apple's App Store censorship

My blog post challenging Steve Jobs to stop censoring porn and satire in the App Store touched a nerve with readers. They gave me a lot to think about.

The most compelling arguments were in response to this statement of mine: "Shouldn't adults be allowed to decide for themselves what they and their children are allowed to see and read?"

For example, razer2020 said:

As a consumer you can choose what product to buy. Do your research. If you don't like the manufacturer's policies or ideologies, buy something else.
Good job Apple and Steve Jobs. Let all the porn perverts go elsewhere. It's nice to be able to let my kids surf through the App Store knowing they won't be subjected to this [filth].

 An anonymous reader said:

[A]nyone who wants porn knows where to get it and can get as much as they want. If we were talking about true censorship that would not be the case. Just because a store/company doesn't wish to carry a certain product does not make it censorship. Walmart does not carry any music that comes with a warning label for content, doesn't matter who it is or what type of music. Should Walmart be forced to carry products it does not want to sell?

 Other readers picked up on my comment, "This kind of filtering is inevitable in the case of a brick-and-mortar bookstore or TV station where resources are finite, and any products they carry means they can't carry something else."

An anonymous reader said:

Oh please! Who's trying to pull the wool over whose eyes here? You know damn good and well the reason bookstores don't carry porn is not lack of space. Last I checked, Barnes & Nobles was a pretty big store -- enormous actually -- and it is porn-free! Not a XXX book or movie in the joint.
If you really feel the need to search for porn, you could always open the browser on ANY Apple product and type in "Debbie does everybody" or "Adam & Steve" whatever your preference may be. Lo and behold, your browser will find it for you. No one is censoring your right to be sleazy.
PS Can you direct me to the link on Computerworld where your porn is located? I looked and can't seem to find a trace of it anywhere here.

 My comments were about more than porn. "Morely the IT Guy" got it:

It's not just porn, people. At least half the article addresses POLITICAL SPEECH, which is a freedom guaranteed by the US Constitution's First Amendment. If Steve Jobs and Apple don't want to allow political speech in their App Store, they do have the right to restrict it. They also have the right to pack up Apple corp. HQ and move to North Korea or Red China, where their apparent views are considered the norm, rather than a reprehensible attempt to repress dissent.

And as for those of you who say that "(item) should not be in the App Store because it's available on the Internet," if that's the case, why bother to buy a "smart" phone that can run apps at all? Just get a feature phone with a Web browser.

I found the preceding arguments quite persuasive, particularly the ones disagreeing with my earlier column. Like I said: iPhone and iPad buyers are adults, they have a right to choose what content they and their children are exposed to. They're choosing to avoid porn, and they're happy that Apple is providing that service for them. As an anonymous reader said: "Lots of porn available for you who like it, for those of us who do not, it's nice to not have the gross titles pass by as you're looking for other kinds of entertainment."

I found other arguments less persuasive. For example, I said: "I roll my eyes every time I download a Twitter app or Web browser and get a warning message telling me it might be used to access adult content. Does anybody need to be warned that there's adult content on the Internet? Seriously? It makes me feel like Apple doesn't have much respect for its customers, that it thinks of us as five-year-olds."

Reader Mathew Parangot responded: "You're right! The warnings in the App Store (due to the age filters) are annoying.... to people who are familiar with all kinds of content that can be viewed on the web. But I am sure you understand that iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches are increasingly used by minors."

I don't believe that any child, anywhere, at any time, has ever been blocked from seeing adult content by those silly warnings. It just doesn't make sense. How's that going to work precisely? A child downloads an app, sees that warning label and ... then what? What is it that blocks him from seeing adult content?

Parangot also said: "And about political satire: Who decides what's appropriate? If cartoonists are allowed to ridicule public figures (say for example, the American President) on an iDevice, then can Apple stop terrorists from releasing an app that propagates their agenda? Why not use a website or an HTML5 web app to publish controversial cartoons instead of a native app? Why hold Apple's own App Store, hostage?"

Who decides what's appropriate? We all do. That is the essence of free speech. As for whether terrorists would put software on the App Store advancing their agenda -- sure, that's troubling. But who decides who's a terrorist? We've seen an alarming trend in the US toward slapping the "terrorist" label on anything somebody in power doesn't like.

An anonymous reader said:

I'll agree, in part, on your questioning Apple's incessant censorship. However, Apple has every right to present their App Store in any light they see fit, including banning sexually oriented material.
What they don't have a right, and you more appropriately should have confronted him with, is their locking their devices down to where theirs is the only app store available to the owners of these iDevices.
The problem is Apple's insistence that they retain fascistic, Nazi control over hardware they no longer own.
The solution then, is not to beg with hat in hand that they add or remove this label or that, but to unlock their iDevices so that their rightful owners may enjoy a free-market solution to acquiring their content and apps.
Again, you're in the right church, but you're sitting in the wrong pew.

I don't have a problem with Apple locking down the iPhone and iPad. Freedom of speech is fundamental freedom, freedom to tinker is not. Apple has a right to lock down its device. You, on the other hand also have a right to refuse to buy that device, and go buy someone else's unlocked device.

I do, however, object to Apple claiming jailbreaking your iPhone is illegal. It's my damn iPhone once I buy it, and I have a right to unlock it if I want to. Apple doesn't have an obligation to unlock it for me, but neither do they have a right to demand that the government stop me.

Finally, an anonymous reader says: "Ask Mitch to post a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed and watch how fast he caves, just like the rest of the 'free' press, when it comes to freedom on the Web."

I love being called a coward by a guy who's too chicken to sign his name to his blog comment.

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media marketing consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner.

Related Blog Posts

Mitch Wagner: Defending Apple's App Store censorship

Jonny Evans: Is nothing sacred? Porno comes to the iPad

Mitch Wagner: Dear Steve Jobs: Questions about censorship, satire, iPad accessories

See also Computerworld's Complete iPad Coverage

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