The death of Steve Jobs has rocked people the world over, affecting everyone from the most hardcore Apple fanboy to Barack Obama to all those gathered outside the new Apple store in Shanghai. While Steve Jobs will be remembered for revolutionizing personal computing, the music industry, consumer mobile products, film animation and even fonts, the other side of his legacy is one of hyper-control: Apple’s proprietary software, the iPhone’s closed-off ecology, App Store censorship and the company’s labor law violations. If there was ever a company that capitalized on American consumers languishing in late-stage capitalism, it was Apple. And they did it by inventing “cool” products that we didn’t even know we needed – till we needed them.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’re re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!
Apple’s Highly Objectionable App Store Censorship
When Jobs introduced the App Store in June 2008, porn was at the top of the not-allowed-here list of content. Some apps containing nudity snuck into the App Store, and were later pulled. Now only partial nudity seems to show up (e.g. Beautiful Boobs, Asian Boobs), especially if it only focuses on boobs.
Speaking of boobs, in June 2010 Apple once again censored “Ulysses Seen,” a web comic version of the classic James Joyce novel. Apple forced the creators to remove images that contained nudity before they would approve it as an iPad app. History seems to have repeated itself here: Ulysses had been put on trial in 1933. Apple ended up changing its mind after all, so the boob-filled web comic is available for download.
A few months after the App Store opened in June 2008, a great controversy erupted over an app called Podcaster that Apple decided to reject. It would have permitted people to listen to podcasts without downloading them first to iTunes; Apple worried that the app “duplicated the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes,” and thus saw it as a threat. Here is a longer list of types of apps that Apple rejected from its Mac App Store.
In September 2010, Apple’s iTunes social network Ping omitted Lady Gaga’s Tweets in which she protests anti-gay marriage legislation Prop8. But don’t worry, Apple still released an It Gets Better video, so they must be pro-gay folks, right?
Not long after that, in October 2010, Apple was awarded a patent that could stop people from sending “objectionable” text messages. It was filed in January 2008, and approved on October 12, 2010, and would allow certain content to be filtered based on parental controls. While it might seem like Apple is trying to keep its devices safe from porn, and therefore more workplace and school-friendly, this was still one step closer toward authoritarian control over the iPhone.
Additional apps were banned from the App store: In July 2011, Apple removed the ThirdIntifada app from its store because it “glorified violence against Israel.” Apple also banned the violent comic book “Murderdrome” from its App Store, based on the Apple SDK which states that “Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.” There were a few beheadings and ripped out limbs – but those aren’t unusual in the world of comic books.
Here’s perhaps the most telling App store ban of all: On September 13, 2011, an app called Phone Story, a game that also serves as social commentary, was banned from the Apple App Store only a few hours after its release. The answer as to why this happened was actually quite simple, and can be found in this elegantly written description of the game:
“Phone Story is a game for smartphone devices that attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform. Under the shiny surface of our electronic gadgets, behind its polished interface, hides the product of a troubling supply chain that stretches across the globe. Phone Story represents this process with four educational games that make the player symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.”
Oh wait, that sounds a whole lot like exactly what Apple does! Yet Apple would never come out and say that. Instead, they said that the app was banned because it “depicted violence or abuse of children,” and “presented excessively objectionable or crude content.” This highly questionable act raises serious concerns over the freedom of information in a democratic society, playing into Apple’s “walled garden” approach to both its products, and the Web at large.
In 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority responded to two British TV viewers who claimed that a TV ad featuring a voiceover that said “all parts of the Internet are on the iPhone” was misleading because the iPhone didn’t support Flash or Java. The ad was found to breach CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence) and 5.2.2 (Implications), and could not be broadcast again.
Also back in 2008, a gaping security hole in Apple’s firmware posed serious problems for anyone who wanted to lock their phone. Instead of being able to lock the phone with a security code, anyone could bypass that by tapping the “Emergency Call” button and then double tapping the homepage (if it was set to the default favorites).
Apple’s Inhumane Working Conditions
Apple outsources its labor to China’s most horrible factories, and abuses at one in particular stand out: The Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Here, some workers as young as 12 years old were forced to work for extended periods of time to meet increased demand for iPhones and iPads from all over the world. As popularity increased for Apple devices, workers were pushed to work longer. Workers ages 18-20 were being forced to work 60-80 hours of extended overtime every month in cramped, low-quality conditions. They were being treated like the very machines they were being forced to produce.
Inhumane treatment of workers first came to light when seven workers at the Foxconn plant committed suicide in May 2010. They were working on the iPad production sector. After these suicides, workers were required to sign a statement that says they are not allowed to commit suicide.
Image via Flickr user mailox.
Will you continue to buy Apple products? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.