Apple Shields Our Eyes From Bikinis

By Mike Schuster  FEB 22, 2010 1:30 PM

Hypocritical new rules turn App Store into 17th-Century New England.


For ages, identifying obscenity meant holding the work up to a nebulous definition. Like beauty, what was regarded as obscene depended on the eye of the beholder -- leading to much confusion and even more contention. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart coined the phrase "I know it when I see it" as a catchall for any work without officially ascribing a list of forbidden subjects written in stone.

While no organization has single-handedly defined such a subjective premise successfully, that matters very little to Apple (AAPL). The company has pulled more than 5,000 apps from its App Store and revealed a shockingly puritanical set of rules to one of the developers.

The matter came to light when developer Jon Atherton contacted TechCrunch after Apple removed his program, Wobble iBoobs, from the App Store. This, after the app was downloaded and installed 970,000 times over the course of six to eight months.

Atherton forwarded the form email which he and 4,999 other developers received:

The App Store continues to evolve, and as such, we are constantly refining our guidelines. Your application, Wobble iBoobs (Premium Uncensored), contains content that we had originally believed to be suitable for distribution. However, we have recently received numerous complaints from our customers about this type of content, and have changed our guidelines appropriately.

We have decided to remove any overtly sexual content from the App Store, which includes your application.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter. If you believe you can make the necessary changes so that Wobble iBoobs (Premium Uncensored) complies with our recent changes, we encourage you to do so and resubmit for review.

iPhone App Review

Although it's another case of "censor everything to protect the children," removing apps that are "overtly sexual" is understandable -- albeit curious as to how they would pass the approval process in the first place. But Wobble iBoobs, aside from the name, isn't really "overtly sexual" at all. Yes, the app allowed the user to assign different sections of a picture to jiggle when the iPhone was shaken, but it didn't provide any pictures of its own. Every photo was loaded by the user from another source -- say, iPhone's uncensored Safari Web browser.

Confused over the new policy, Atherton spoke to an Apple rep to clarify the company's stance on the issue and was told a ridiculous set of rules that every app must now follow. He posted it on his website along with some commentary:

1. No images of women in bikinis (Ice skating tights are not OK either)

No images of men in bikinis! (I didn't ask about Ice Skating tights for men)

No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)

No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes -- I am serious, we have to remove the silhouette in this pic)

No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex -- all banned

Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (I doubt many people could get aroused with the pic [linked] above but those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble "overtly sexual!")

No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content (not sure how Playboy is still in the store, but …)

Apple responded to TechCrunch after the story ran:

Whenever we receive customer complaints about objectionable content we review them. If we find apps that contain inappropriate material we remove them from the App Store and request the developer to make any necessary changes to their apps in order to be distributed by Apple.

By that rationale, every app is subject to further review by the App Store if any prude sends off an angry missive. So anyone who's designing an app that shows Elvis dancing from waist down, well, it's best if you just crop the video.

But Atherton brings up an interesting point: The Playboy App (PLA) is still in the store. Surely, that will be short lived. It, along with any other magazine app featuring a scantily clad person on the cover, will undoubtedly be removed quite soon. If Michael Phelps in his Speedo didn't bring down the Sports Illustrated (TWX) app, the Swimsuit Issue alone would annihilate it. There's no way those apps could possibly be safe under Apple's new rules. No way.

Of course, any TV show that includes a woman in her bra or a guy wrapped in a towel -- definitive rule-breakers -- is going to get axed from the video section, too. Any film that has swearing or, God forbid, a sex scene will soon be gone. If it applies to one part of the App Store, why not the other?

I mean, the folks at Apple would be completely and utterly hypocritical if they didn't ban those, too. Right?

Well, they won't. And saying they're unabashed hypocrites is stating the obvious.

This is a company that banned an e-reader app because it allowed users to load up the Kama Sutra. Hey Apple, how's that new iBooks app for the iPad working for you?

This is a company that approved an embarrassing number of fart apps but will outright reject any app which has the word "boobs."

This is a company that told Atherton to remove a woman's silhouette from his app but will, with a minimal amount of clicks, display an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians entitled "I Want Your Sex" or an icon of a topless woman from the side for the show Caprica.

And pointing out the media's double standards over sex vs. violence has long been exhausted, but come on, Apple. Crank 2: High Voltage? You have no problem with that but a swimsuit is forbidden?

Clearly, Apple's position on mature content is highly mercurial depending on the source. A meager developer making a couple grand a year? Ban the app. A multi-billion dollar studio with heavy ties to the company? It's all good.

Yes, it's Apple's store and it can do what it wants. However, for the company to have the gall to not only ban barely objectionable material from the App Store, but also allow more controversial content elsewhere, it is the very definition of hypocritical.

So shield your eyes, iPhone users. Not from the swimsuits. The fire from the witch burning can cause a pretty nasty glare in Apple's buckled hat.

No positions in stocks mentioned.