Racist Apps In Google's Play Store Test Just How Free You Want Speech To Be

from the and-lots-of-people-get-failing-grades dept

If there is anything that tests people's embrace of free and open speech, it's racism and bigotry. Now, I realize that this is an immensely touchy subject, so we'll leave all the jokes aside here, but a good primer for exactly how I feel about the subject is a piece Mike did a few years back on whether we want racist websites taken down or not. The question is whether we embrace free speech to the extent that it protects speech we don't like. Or hate. Or speech that makes us want to hit the person speaking or writing it. I believe the answer should be yes. I believe that for a number of reasons, chief amongst them being that I choose not to give hate speech power by reacting to it. This is a personal choice, I understand, but it's one that I believe makes logical sense. Hate speech, racism, and bigotry are often not the ignorant idiocy we sometimes think they are. Rather, they are the careful and calculated words of someone looking chiefly for a response. I try not to give them that response.

But another reason I default to the allowance of nearly any speech (aside from that which causes real physical danger to people, of course) is that I don't believe in my ability to be an arbiter for what speech should be allowed or should not be allowed. Moreover, I don't believe in anyone's capacity to be that arbiter. And it's with the above in mind that I read what Andrew F alerts us to: “Asian American groups want Google to take down slightly offensive app by a third party.”

The maker of a Google app thinks it's fun to make yourself look Asian by changing the shape of your eyes and wearing a Fu Manchu mustache and rice paddy hat. Another app – “Make Me Indian” – makes you a Native American with brown skin, war paint and a feather headband. KimberyDeiss makes other photo-altering apps including “Make Me Old” and “Make Me Fat.” There's also “Make Me Russian” and “Make Me Irish,” which play off stereotypes.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: racism in itself isn't funny. At all. These apps sound execptionally childish and stupid, the kind of app that shows up for a few months and then quickly goes away. That is, unless a bunch of interest groups stir up an undue amount of uproar and get major news media to splash the name of the apps all over the place.

The apps use dated and racist stereotypes of Asians and Native Americans, said the online campaign 18 Million Rising, named after the number of Asian-Americans in the United States.

“These racist and offensive portrayals of Asians and Native Americans perpetuate damaging racial stereotypes and should not be distributed on the Google play store,” said the campaign, which has an online petition to remove the apps.

This is the choice we discussed earlier, how much do you want to protect free speech. It's very easy for people to protect free speech when it isn't offensive to them, but this is an example of how we may react differently once speech directly affects or refers to us. I'm sorry, but I wouldn't ask Google to remove the “Make me Irish” app, partly because I don't want Google policing apps in general based on the kind of speech involved and also because I don't need the name of that app showing up on CNN, drawing attention to it and Streisanding it into greater sales.

For its part, Google has confirmed that the apps do not violate their terms of service regarding offensive speech and has refused to pull the apps from the Play Store. Which means that all these interest groups have accomplished is to draw more attention to the apps they don't like. Plus, they reacted, which is what racists would like them to do.

The lesson here isn't that racism is okay, that we should embrace it, like it, or remain silent about it. Of course we should do none of those things. But asking others to censor speech we don't like isn't the answer and it can often backfire on us. Social shaming is a better approach, if done in a reasonable way, but I prefer to try and figure out what the person offering offensive speech wants to accomplish with that speech and then do the opposite. Plus, and you can take this from me based on personal experience, racists hate being ignored.

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Comments on “Racist Apps In Google's Play Store Test Just How Free You Want Speech To Be”

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Dan J. (profile) says:

Re: Defend to the Death App

While I’d have no issue with the Defend to the Death app, it’s really not appropriate here. The right to free speech is simply that – the right to speak. It’s not a right to force me to listen. It’s not a right to force Google or anyone else to publish the speech. If Google kicks those apps out of the Playstore, it is not in any way, shape, form or fashion a violation of the app writer’s freedom of speech. Google can certainly decide to be neutral and allow such content and I have no issue with that at all. But they’re under no obligation to do so, and free speech rights aren’t involved in the issue.

Aria Company (profile) says:

Re: Re: Defend to the Death App

You missed the point of my post.

I find it rather interesting you used the word “force” to describe your situation, while my situation states the “force” is being done to remove these rights.

Rights, not apps. That’s the key difference here. I don’t care if apps are allowed/removed, but the more people who “object” to “racism”, the more likely those rights to express such a statement is lost.

FISA is a law that passed because the public allowed it to.

The First Amendment could be next, because apps quell that free speech by being taken down.

No one forces you to install these apps on your system.


Dan J. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Defend to the Death App

I don’t care if apps are allowed/removed, but the more people who “object” to “racism”, the more likely those rights to express such a statement is lost.

I’m confused. Isn’t the answer to hate speech not censorship but MORE speech which denounces the hate speech and points out why it’s wrong? Isn’t the right response to racist speech to stand up and object, not to the publication of the idea, but to the holding of the idea in the first place?

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Defend to the Death App

Google has terms of service, these apps do not break those terms and as such I’d have a problem with google removing them due to pressure from a 3rd party no matter how much I may agree with why that 3rd party find those apps offensive.

The makes of the app has no right to sell those apps on play but they do have a right to express the ideas in those apps. My distaste for those ideas does not over come my feeling that speech is best countered with more speech. I simply have a fear of where censorship of any of that speech leads.

Sadly I’m based in the UK where people can be arrested for making an offensive joke on twitter. When you can be arrested for being offensive you are handing out huge powers to the people who decided what is offensive.

Drah Dellort says:

Re: Warning from Llort

People should not be “free” to commit blasphemy about our lord.
There should be only one law, the law of God.
The Law of god states, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”

Isaiah 1:19

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

America is being punished because of your “free speech”, “free homosexuality”, “free bestiality”, “free inter-racial marriage” etc…
Filthy liberals with their deviant lifesyles will be punished by our Savior. Don’t be an ungodly, immoral, sinful liberal that will turn other children into a gay or force them to marry a black person or heaven forbid Lord, a Muslim or a Jew.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”
Doing so is the gateway drug to homosexuality.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 BAN Christian Apps from Google first , FFS

Glad someone got it. Alas tis too late. I already fessed up.

FarSide.Liberty, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 4:41pm
Seriously? The part where his name is ‘Trolled Hard’ spelled backwards didn’t give anything away?

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 4:37pm
Can’t tell if trolling to make a point or a TYPICAL AMERIFAT

Drah Dellort backwards is trolleD harD
No one appeared to have got it, which is surprising. I even pointed to it with arrows.

Drah Dellort, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 11:53am

/ Lords name /

All my internets are belong to FarSide.Liberty

That One Guy said about Poe’s law.
That was my EXACT thought before posting. All my thoughts are belong to him. (fuck)

BTW… everything I hate was in that.
Ignorance, retardedness, irrational fear which leads to hate etc… and of course…..who else…. Amerifats : )

Drah Dellort says:

Re: Re: Re:3 / Lords name /

“ann archy”
Another liberal occupy 99%er. All you people do is take take take. You expect all of us to pay for your healthcare, pay for your children, pay for your children’s schooling, pay for your children’s healthcare, pay for your food, pay for your flat screen TV’s and automobiles etc….
Take some responsibility.

Murdering babies is evil at work. If God intended the baby to be conceived, murdering that life is wrong.
Again, take some responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Warning from Llort

Only a Muslim loving liberal would twist words like that.

Forcing sharia law onto the people is a good thing ?
Ignoring Gods law is a good thing ?
Removing God from our schools and our Government is a good thing ?
Creating deviant gays is a good thing ?

Answer can only be NO.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Warning from Llort

Didn’t you read it ?

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

You will create homosexuals by saying intolerant and malicious words like that, words that only show your discrimination towards good Christians and hate for God.
We all have sexual urges for the same sex, but only with the strength of our Lord, shall we overcome.

Removing God from a child’s life will turn them into homosexuals.
Removing God from society will create disasters for the people.
That’s what liberals want. A society full homosexuals and excuses to get government handouts.

I forgive you. You know not what you do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Warning from Llort

Boo, you’ve given the game away ;-(

We all have sexual urges for the same sex.

Your trolling was going so well and I was voting many of your posts as funny, but this line blatantly gives the trolling away. All the other posts are hit or miss to those who can’t take a joke.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Can't tell if trolling to make a point or a TYPICAL AMERIFAT

I disagree…..That one would fly.100% plausible

proof of plausibility
Ted Haggard
Caleb Douglas Hesse
George Rekers
Pastor Eddie Long
Troy King
Richard Curtis
Glenn Murphy Jr
David Dreier
Bruce Barclay
Roy Ashburn, Jim West
Larry Craig, Ed Schrock
Robert Allen
Mark Foley
Phillip Hinkle……………. the list goes on and on

The give away was there all along, from the very first input text.

Drah Dellort backwards is trolleD harD
No one appeared to have got it, which is surprising. I even pointed to it with arrows.

Drah Dellort, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 11:53am

/ Lords name /

@That One Guy got it spot on about Poe’s law btw.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Warning from Llort

Your argumentative words towards Christians suggest that you are a Jew.
I like Jews, I have a Jew friend. I support your people against the Muslims trying to take over the Holy Lands and install sharia law. Muslims are everywhere and they hate freedom. Liberals always support the Muslims and hate Israel. We are on the same side.
However there is one thing to remember. It was the Jews that killed Jesus and unless you repent you will not make it into heaven.

The dude says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Warning from Llort

Jesus wasn’t killed by Jews (he was a jew imself), he was killed by politicians (in that time the religious leaders were also politicians), because they though that he was bad for bussines, they did not kill him for being the origin of christianity,they killed him because they saw him as a threat to their power, it wasnt personal, it was “business”

Dan J. (profile) says:

Re: Free Speech places no obligation on others.

As far as I am concerned, if there are restrictions placed on free speech by anyone but yourself, then we cannot call it free.

No restriction is even being contemplated to be placed on the speech. What’s being requested is that Google refuse to publish. If I send a letter to the editor of the local paper and they decline to publish it, are my rights being denied?

I have the right to free speech. I can spew the vilest, most horrendous, most bigoted stream of bile and hatred that I care to produce. That’s what free speech means. But you have freedom of association and you have the freedom to use your owned resources as you like. My right of free speech doesn’t obligate you in any way to help me to spread my word. And Google is under no obligation to publish the speech of the app writer. They have chosen to do so, and may very well continue to do so. I have no issue with that. But if they change their minds, it is not a restriction on free speech and it does not violate anyone’s rights.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Poor quality writing on techdirt.

Maybe you needs a lesson yourself…

“The power to produce an outcome or achieve a result; influence: The drug had an immediate effect on the pain. The government’s action had no effect on the trade imbalance.”

So it would be directly effecting people and having an influence on them directly.

Who knew…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Poor quality writing on techdirt.

You all sound like a bunch of English teachers having a biggest dick competition. The sheer amount of wasted time arguing over the proper application of affect/effect is astounding. Let me make this clear…

To paraphrase the estimable Cartman,

“Stan, me and Kenny don’t give two shits about stupid-ass affects/effects!” (Or whales)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Poor quality writing on techdirt.

And……. Anally retarded grammar RACISTS in the comments.

“directly effects” [could mean] effected by being offended.

Please don’t this last comment affect you, or effect you in any way. I am just curious.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Poor quality writing on techdirt.

Can we please, PLEASE, have some editorial standards on techdirt?

We accidentally let through one of the most common mistakes in grammar, the effects/affects difference and you make it out like we have no standards at all. Sometimes we make mistakes. People point them out. And we fix them.

Some people point them out nicely. Some people act like they’re absolutely offended that we might have possibly made a slight mistake in the editing process.

Which did you choose? Was that really the best choice?

Grammar Nazi says:

Re: Re: Poor quality writing on techdirt.

First, I would like to apologize for my outburst. I think articles on this site are great and they foster a healthy discussion about important topics.

However during the past year there were many articles confusing effects/affects. So this have becomes somewhat of a pattern:



Here is the one I have tried to correct by pointing out the error politely and with no result:


Was getting “absolutely offended” the best choice? Unfortunately I have to say “yes”. This got enough attention to fix the mistake.

Here is another “slight mistake in the editing process”:

I am sorry, but this make the grammar nazi in me run around waving arms and screaming in terror.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

People seem to think they have the right to not be offended.
Gays can’t marry! It is offensive to my religious beliefs!
You can’t have an abortion! It is offensive to my religious beliefs!
The list goes on and on and on…

You have the right to be offended, you have the right to offend others. If you want to legislate away things that offend you, how will you react when someone legislates away your things that offend them.

The proper response would have been to release an app to let people make themselves look like a crappy programmer who hopes racial stereotypes will get him money.
Instead more people now know about these apps existing, and we’ll waste time debating why we don’t have laws to fix this.
If you think its offensive, don’t download it.
If you think its offensive, your entitled to speak out about it. Your not entitled to demand a 3rd party keep you from being offended, and filter the world to just please you.

A Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think you’re a bit offtopic, but I feel I should respond anyway.

Abortions are not about being offended. The argument against it is, “You’re killing an innocent child” (or, “You’re killing an original-sin-guilty child who will go directly to Hell”, if you’re a sufficiently devout Catholic).

I am not saying that I agree with that view, but you’re mischaracterizing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think it is a mischaracterization of abortion at all. It is still about being offended.

We, as a society, find theft offensive; therefore we have made it illegal.

We, as a society, find murder offensive; therefore we have made it illegal.

We, as a society, cannot decide on whether or not abortion is offensive as some consider it murder and others do not. Currently it is not illegal.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Abortion is definitely a sore subject practically everywhere, even here in the Netherlands (where weed and prostitution are legal), now and again ‘religious’ people feel the need to get abortion back on the political agenda. Or to promote making the process more lengthy or force doctors to remind women seeking abortion that they should consider adoption. Even here we had some radical christian politician echo the ‘women can prevent getting pregnant from rape’ argument.

I personally think abortion should be legal, information should be given and it should be made sure that the girl herself wants abortion, not her family/boyfriend. Ofcourse, it does say a lot about you if you get multiple abortions just because you don’t feel like using birth control, but does it matter? I don’t think it does. As soon as you start putting up restrictions people will start forcing women who really do deserve an abortion to have a child they absolutely don’t want and probably can’t love at all. To me that’s more screwed up than letting some dumb bimbo prevent her bad genes to be spread further.

…this is kinda off topic o.o Meh… posts anyway

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Old white men complain about abortion more than most people.
They lack a uterus, so they make an emotional claim based on their religious views.
They find the fact that abortion happens so offensive they demand laws to stop it.
Where they can not stop it, they pass laws to make it as difficult as possible for a woman to have one.
They themselves do not contain the fetus, had no hand in its creation, but demand the right to not be offended by someone making a choice they do not agree with.

The answer is the same as the one for the app.
If you don’t like it, don’t have one. Your entitled to say you don’t like it, but not to try to have it stopped to keep yourself from being offended.

Anonymous Coward says:


Black People are Best People and Allah is the one true god.
Prove me wrong ?

White people…..huh
They all came from Africa.
They all have Middle Eastern knowledge as the bedrock of their society.
They all have Middle Eastern knowledge as the bedrock of their religions.

Why don’t white folks get it ?
Black People are Best People and Allah is the one true god.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: OR.........


Newer is always better, so the FSM is the one true god! Do you have any idea how many people eat pasta every day? His tastiness is endless! I really hope his Noodly Appendage will at some point touch you, ’cause otherwise you’ll miss out on the beer volcano and stripper factory in the afterlife and be bored for all eternity.


Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

This damn app is racest. You can’t change your face into a pale skined caucasian. You can make yourself fat, but that’s as close as it gets.

In all seriousness, I’ve never played with the app. I heard about it (or one like it) a while ago, thought it was just another waste of storage space and ignored it.

What’s more racest, making fun of all races or intentionaly not making fun of one? Or even better, making fun of any race or trying to take someone’s freedom of speach away becouse they made fun of yours?

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Racist or just having fun with differences?

I haven’t seen the apps in question so I may be coming from a position of ignorance here – but going by the descriptions given, how are these racist?

Comedians like Lenny Henry dress up as different races all the time, a number of Hollywood movies (of varying success) have done the same thing for laughs – Soul Man, White Chicks.

I just can’t see an app that changes your facial features to see how you would look as another race being offensive.

To me it would be fun to see how I look – I’ve already had a go at making myself Old, Fat, Zombie, Ghost… unless they’re using insensitive/offensive words to describe the race, I’m lost here.

Yakko Warner (profile) says:

Re: Racist or just having fun with differences?

I suppose it depends on how you take it.

“Look how funny/stupid I look when I look like a [racist word here]!” rather than “Interesting how I might have looked like with more Asian/African/etc. genes.”

I don’t know how the app presents it, either. If we assume “neutrally” (i.e., “Give yourself Asian features”), then the racism would be entirely in the user’s mind.

The intent of these apps is only in the mind of the developer(s), so unless they come out and tell us, we can only guess. Some will choose to guess the worst case.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

no such thing as 'race'...

…it is a manmade concept, not born out by nature:
there is no ‘race’ of chihuahuas, ‘race’ of great danes, or ‘race’ of labrador retrievers, they are all dogs…
same with us: we are all the same dogs, just some fancy breeds like to think their shit don’t stink…

similarly, there is no such objective thing as ‘hate speech’, it is ALL subjective…

IF you believe in free speech (and a surprising number of non-thinking idiots ACTUALLY DON’T), THEN that implies you MUST defend the right of your most vile enemy to spout the most disgusting things, or you are not really for free speech, after all…

lastly, are we still allowed to ‘hate’ at all ? ? ? …or has that been outlawed as being, you know, too ‘negative’ ? ? ? *snort*
*and* i include ‘racism’ among this ‘hate’: as long as i don’t do anything otherwise illegal about it, WHY can’t i ‘hate’ blacks, or ‘hate’ whites, or left-handed people, or politicians, or whoever the fuck i want to ‘hate’ ? ? ?

is it now mandatory that i *HAVE TO* ‘like’ EVERYONE ? ? ?

what a world full of butt-hurt pussies, here is my aphorism for the thin-skinned dingleberries:

you have the right to NOT be assaulted; you do NOT have the right to NOT be insulted…

grow a pair…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Ninja (profile) says:

Plus, and you can take this from me based on personal experience, racists hate being ignored.

Pretty much that. Ignoring often makes THEM mad at you. Those hate groups are usually just a bunch of attention whores.

Ahem, that said I find those apps incredibly funny. And if you treat them as they should be treated meaning as apps for fun and have fun with those stereotypes (including those that affect you directly) any attempt of racism, offense or whatever goes straight down the flush. I have black friends and they make fun of the stereotypes. I know disabled people (wheelchair users) that make fun of their condition and stereotypes. I have Japanese friends that make fun, homosexual friends, etc.

The moment we downplay the importance of hate speech and treat fun stuff as fun and not some attempt to directly offend then we’ll both have freedom of speech guaranteed and less racism.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Free Speech?

Without getting into the relative merit of the apps in question: Google is not the government, and may choose what content it allows on its property (the app store). Their final decision one way or the other does not even touch the issue of free speech.

I highly doubt, for example, that your commitment to free speech would extend to letting the KKK hold a cross-burning rally on your front lawn. Your refusal to do so would likewise not be “censorship” or “against free speech”.

Now, if they petitioned the government to force Google to remove the apps, or if you petitioned to government to prevent the KKK from holding rallies . . .

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Whether or not it’s racist isn’t really the issue here, the problem is with one group trying to force another to stop doing something, simply because they find it ‘offensive’.

‘Freedom of speech’ is not a shortened version of(among other things), ‘Freedom of non-offensive speech’.

Or, put another way, when dealing with free speech: A person is free to be offensive. A person is free to be offended. What they are not free to do is to try and shut someone else up due to no other reason than being offended*, which is what’s being attempted here.

*If they can show verifiable, physical/psychological harm(‘feelings’ don’t count) from someone’s offensive actions, that’s another matter entirely of course.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see dressing up as racist. I see it as dressing up =.= I don’t give a damn if some american/asian/african/whatever-else-you-can-come-up-with dresses up as Frau Antje with the weird white ethnic hat, wooden shoes, tulips, joint and all, pretending to be half stoned cause that’s how they see us. I know that’s not what all Dutch people are like, why on earth should I be offended because someone else decides to publicly display their idiocy? I’d laugh if I ever ran into someone like that.

slick8086 says:

To me this is tough one. Google is not the government. It does not go beyond the bounds of reason to let them decide with whom they do business. I don’t like racist speech, but I don’t want a law that makes it illegal, but neither do I want to force people to propagate it when they do not wish to. Why must Google publish this app? They are not the government. They may choose to publish this app if they want because that is guaranteed by the first amendment, but shouldn’t they have the choice to not publish this app too?

It is right to force Google to enable the first amendment rights of others?

Dionaea (profile) says:

Derp... Stupid action is stupid.

The people filing this are idiots. These are badly made, unpopular and low rated apps, they should have let them rot and be forgotten. That being said, they’re pretty intolerant themselves calling this racist, everyone has stereotypical images about people they’ve never met, some a lot worse than this. Then again, they’re allowed their opinion too, so they can be butthurt as much as they want.

This is like PETA going after Pokemon. It won’t get them anywhere and will just reveal how badly delusional these people are.

bob (profile) says:

if its funny on television

family guy, on 1/6/2013 had a racist stereotype of both japanese businessmen AND a bucktooth chinese farmer holding the leash of an ox. south park does it all the time.
people are overly sensitive, turning everything that is racial into racism. when I was growing up the definition of racism was “a belief or policy based on race”. an app that slants your eyes or colors your skin is neither of those.
a joke that includes a mention of a racial trait is not racist. people need to stop being offended at everything, it’s not all about you, and it doesn’t actually affect your life.
unlike actual racism which is very much about you and can affect your life in both good and bad ways (I was also taught that thinking chinese people were good at math is bad racism) – which is true except for those getting hired because of it. but yeah, actual racism is bad, 95% of what I hear referred to as racism doesn’t qualify by the definitions of it that I grew up with.

explicit coward (profile) says:

Well… here on techdirt we have a button called report. Sure. It’s not censoring in an absolute sense, because a comment is “only” hidden that way, but still…

We appreciate means to have a say about what we like (hint to facebook) or dislike. And therefore, there are various degrees of censoring.

Maybe by getting racist content officially off-line, that’s our way of showing our dislike. Because, lets be honest, the net never forgets. Even if such apps are being taken offline, once they’ve been spread they will continue to digitally exist in more shady areas of the web.

AND it can act as an economic booster, which – financially speaking – is the best thing that could happen to an app-dev.

Mel says:


Sure these apps are stereotypical, but not racist. I noticed the article focused on the Asian and Indian apps, but barely mentioned the Russian and Irish stereotype makers. Why is that? Apparently if you’re bigoted toward white cultures, it doesn’t matter. That seems pretty bigoted to me. (The writer uses bigoted and racist interchangeably. They are NOT the same.)

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