iPhone Developer Creates App Criticizing The iPhone; App Is Quickly Pulled

from the don't-cross-invisible-lines dept

Molleindustria is an app developer who makes a line of controversial and political games. Some of its more well known games include McDonalds Videogame, Operation: Pedopriest, and Oiligarchy. It just recently announced and released its latest game, Phone Story. This particular game takes the player through the cruel world of smart phone production using a series of mini games depicting the mining of coltan from the Congo using child labor, the suicides in the Foxconn factories and, of course, e-waste disposal in third world countries.

On top of all those themes, the game was to be released on the very platform it criticized: the iPhone.

It didn’t last long on the platform.

Just hours after being approved, Apple yanked it from the app store for four separate violations.

15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected

16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected

21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free

21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

The key story going around the internet is that Apple is silencing a critic of its platform and business practices, and it’s just using the iOS guidelines as a tool to do so.

Let’s put that aside and focus on something a little different: Apple’s arbitrary code enforcement. According to Molleindustria:

I’m very familiar with the App Store policy, and the game is designed to be compliant with it.

If you check the guidelines, Phone Story doesn’t really violate any rule except for the generic ‘excessively objectionable and crude content’ and maybe the ‘depiction of abuse of children’. Yes, there’s dark humor and violence but it’s cartoonish and stylized – way more mellow than a lot of other games on the App Store.

If Molleindustria took the extra effort to be compliant, how did they end up breaking those above rules? It’s hard to say as even Molleindustria doesn’t quite know.

Rules 21.1 and 21.2 are the easy ones to counter. Molleindustria did pledge that all proceeds from the app sales will be going to charity, but that is not done in the app itself. That is Molleindustria giving away the 70% of sales it earns to a charity. It was not asking any buyers to donate to a charity in the app or even outside the app. I guess Apple just didn’t want to be part of the charitable aspect.

Rule 15.2 might be a sticking point. Molleindustria admits:

a new version of Phone Story that depicts the violence and abuse of children involved in the electronic manufacturing supply chain in a non-crude and non-objectionable way… will be a difficult task

Yet, is depicting near real life conditions of child labor really objectionable? Would a news app reporting on child labor and showing a video of children in the working environment get a pass? Or is the problem that such a depiction is interactive in this case? It isn’t like this game is a baby shaker app or anything. The child abuse depicted has an editorial purpose.

Finally, we come to Rule 16.1. Of the four, this rule is probably the most frequently broken by app developers as it is completely subjective by nature. What one app reviewer finds objectionable another would not. In this case, an app reviewer did not find the app objectionable or crude, but someone in Apple’s leadership did. How is an app developer supposed to know what people they don’t know find objectionable? I know many people who think the various “fart apps” or pimple popping apps on the app store are crude, and many others who think they are funny.

In Apple’s case it is a matter of “it knows it when it sees it.” Not really the best course of action.

Apple is no stranger to controversy over its arbitrary code enforcement. The first few years of the iPhone’s life were rife with stories about apps being banned for doing nothing more than connecting people to content that is freely available online via the Safari browser. For that reason, it really comes as no surprise at all that it would attempt to silence a critic using arbitrary code enforcement.

There is also the possibility that Apple just doesn’t think that Molleindustria is a professional satirist. The guidelines actually do have a code in place to allow such “professional satire” to skirt those other rules:

14.2 Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary

So what is it Apple? Is it okay to be mean spirited in our commentary as long as Apple is not the target? I guess so.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: apple, molleindustria

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Comments on “iPhone Developer Creates App Criticizing The iPhone; App Is Quickly Pulled”

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24 Comments
:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Mac Sheeple

Look, there’s no place for anything which might in any way ever by anybody be considered ‘objectionable’ content–unless of course it comes from an Emmy winning cartoonist (or the equivalent) and blocking said app will be more damaging the Apple’s reputation due to public perception than not blocking said app, in which case the app will slide on by.

The Apple walled garden accepts no weeds, no wild flowers, and no plants without sufficient pedigree. This is what one gets when one decides to join Apple’s world.

sumquy (profile) says:

i disagree with the tone of this story.

all the 100+ page documents apple makes everyone agree to before you can use an apple product really say is: apple can do what apple wants. but that is not a bad thing. apple built the whole iphone platform as a closed ecosystem. one with the apple rule(see above). the developers freely chose to build apps for it on those terms. the market will determine if that strategy is effective or not, but guys like this, that try to claim some kind of right to apple hosting their app get on my nerves.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

except apple posted the app, and then pulled it. Suddenly it was breaking the terms that is passed during the “black hole” period where you submit and app and apple agrees to post it.

To try to pretend that they are trying to shove it into the app store, when they were already there fails at that point. They tried to find ways to make it fit into apples “new” terms but the fact that it at its heart the removal was not because of violating any term other than making apple look bad.

This is apple being thin skinned to criticism of how they do business, and reading the terms differently to support that position.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If nobody complains that the Apple Store is an unfair walled garden, how are people going to understand that they should go elsewhere?

Basically you’re saying that people shouldn’t say anything since they accepted those rules. But then, people wouldn’t find out that these rules suck and things would never change, even if that just means helping others realize they should abandon the platform.

David Liu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But that’s not the point. Everybody has the right to complain about Apple’s rules, but until those walled garden rules change, it’s absolutely idiotic to think that the app store is a viable place to use as a platform to further your own counter agenda.

It’s about as stupid as going inside Apple headquarters to do your soapbox thing, and then complain when you get escorted out.

David Liu (profile) says:

Re: Apple just screwed themselves over

More like Apple has firmly established this position in the past, and won’t give a fuck. To be blunt: the vast majority of people won’t know about this, and won’t care anyways. The people that do, already know that Apple is a walled garden, and this is only evidence that reaffirms their suspicions.

To say that pulling this app screws them over to the extent of a Streisand effect is a bit hysterical at this moment, when considering the fact that tons of apps get pulled or blocked for similar reasons every day.

shanerolland (profile) says:

I want to start my own iphone repair service. I’ve been looking around online, and to be honest I’m not sure were to start. Me and my collegues have looked up places where we can become certified technicians, but how good is the training at so and sos you know. Another thing we are having trouble with is finding a supplier for parts. The internet is scattered with part suppliers, but who is going to be the most reliable?

DavidParkar (profile) says:

iOS Development

In iOS7 a lot of text related methods were deprecated. Widely used sizeWithFont: methods had been deprecated too. However most of apps should support iOS6 as well as iOS7. So reasonable solution is to write universal method which will use correct method on each iOS version. Let’s create NSString class and implement this new method. I recommend to add it for your reusable code library.

DavidParkar (profile) says:

iOS Development

Making iOS apps gets easier and easier with each new release of Xcode. On the other hand, all the new features and approaches means there are more options available, outdated books and old documentation.

Back in my day it turned out so much harder – that’s true in many areas, but a much higher level of quality and features can be expected now. The bar keeps rising, and that’s a good thing.

If I was starting out with iOS development today these are generally the things I would hope somebody would tell me.

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