The organisers of a Silicon Valley technology conference have been forced to apologise after two Australian men pitched a smartphone app called "Titstare" in front of an audience that included a nine-year-old girl.
The Sydney duo's presentation had the mainly male audience laughing, but angered Twitter users and reignited a debate about sexism in the technology sector.
The duo - Jethro Batts, 28, and David Boulton, 24 - pitched their "tongue in cheek" idea at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on Sunday after winning the trip to the US in a similar competition.
TItstare: the app idea pitch causing controversy in the US.
The conference, run by tech blog TechCrunch, sees software developers spend 24 hours coding a new product and then pitching it before an audience of developers and investors.
In their pitch of Titstare, Boulton said on stage in front of an audience of hundreds (and thousands online) that it would allow users to "take photos of yourself, looking at tits".
"It's science my good friend, science," Boulton remarked.
His co-founder Batts said in the same pitch: "Did you know male life expectancy decreased three per cent in the last five years?"
Boulton responded by saying this was linked to women covering up their cleavage and that Titstare aimed to address this by allowing men to look at women's breasts whenever they wanted.
The organisers of the TechCrunch conference have since apologised for allowing Titstare, and another pitch for a product called Circle Shake, in which a man simulated masturbation, to be demonstrated.
Both app ideas resulted in almost universal condemnation online, with women at the conference writing on Twitter that it was not a good look, especially considering a nine-year-old girl was in the audience.
"Titstare guys got a very loud applause from audience. Thank god sexism isn't alive and well in the tech sector. SO PROUD TO HAVE MY KID HERE," wrote Kim Jordan on Twitter sarcastically, the mother of the nine-year-old programmer Alexandra Jordan, who pitched a start-up app idea at the conference called Super Fun Kid Time which allows for the scheduling of children's play dates.
"'Just kidding' isn't a magic responsibility absolving spell," wrote another Twitter user, @jacobian. "You did something really sexist, apologise and own the mistake."
The blog's editors issued a full apology concerning the two pitches on its website on behalf of the organisers.
"You expect more from us, and we expect more from ourselves," it said. "We are sorry."
It promised that it would now screen all ideas before they were pitched before its conference's audience.
Speaking with Fairfax Media in his first interview since the controversy, Batts said the reaction received online was "not what we expected".
He said he was not aware children were in the audience and that had he known, he wouldn't have gone ahead with the "tongue-in-cheek" app pitch.
"For anybody out there who was offended by it we're very, very sorry. It was based around a couple of ideas and having a bit of a laugh," Batts said.
"If we offended anybody it was unintentionally done. It wasn't what we were hoping to do."
Batts added that the presentation was well received by conference audience members and that it had been "misconstrued" on Twitter.
"You have one person who tweets to 50,000 or 100,000 people and if you have that many followers it can get misconstrued," he said, adding that he wasn't looking to make money from the idea.
Murray Hurps, who has worked at the Sydney Fishburners start-up co-working space with the Australian duo, said they were "genuine nice guys".
They were likely trying "very, very hard" to make an impact, he said.
"If you're a hurdler like them and you never trip over and have an accident then you're not trying hard enough. They're trying very, very hard and they've clearly stumbled."
Hate You Cards, which allows users to take photos of themselves and turn them into mean joke text messages and emails to send to their friends, attracted similar criticism, but not to the same level as Titstare.
After the launch of Hate You Cards, Greens Party leader Christine Milne wrote on Twitter: "It is fun to enable bullies?"
"Why not do something good for someone or something? There are already too many people spreading hate," she said.
- Sydney Morning Herald