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The chilling effect of Apple's App Store censorship

David Price | April 16, 2013
Apple didn't censor 'gay sex scene' comic - app maker ComiXology censored itself. But is that worse?

The vagueness is the killer. Since Apple can't explain exactly what it objects to, many developers are going to play it safe and avoid anything with even a whiff of scandal.

With iTunes and its App Store, Apple is in a phenomenally powerful position with regards to the dissemination of cultural offerings, and of course the rules it imposes will have an effect on the sort of material that is produced. If ComiXology was under the impression that gay sex wasn't allowed, it's reasonable to imagine that other creative firms were too, and chose not to depict or refer to this in their work so that they would be able to sell through Apple. Brian K Vaughan complained; not everyone would have done the same thing in his position.

Ultimately there is a danger that Apple's iOSphere - and the larger creative world, because of the company's commercial clout - will veer away from anything that adopts a political viewpoint that doesn't match Apple's. And we slide towards a society with the values of Middle American Walmart customers - one that can't talk about the human costs of US drone strikes without being silenced.

US drone strike push notification - rejected app

App Store censorship: Apps are different

Apple has always defended its curatorial prudishness by pointing out that it only censors apps and games, leaving music, books and films largely untouched. But the boundaries are increasingly blurred. A comics app contains comics, after all. Many iOS games are part game and part interactive book. And in any case, what's so special about apps that they don't get to express objectionable opinions?

Apple says: "If you want to criticise a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app." But why are those formats privileged in this way? And if we want creative people to express themselves through interesting and thought-provoking apps and games, what will be lost if they feel that they need to censor their views in order to be seen by an Apple audience?

 

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