Apple v Porn

Last updated 11:55 30/01/2013

That's quite a headline, give me a second to get there.

Last week, Twitter released a standalone video app called Vine. It is kind of like an Instagram for video, only without the filters. The app is fun, a little buggy, but fun - an easy-to-use social network just for mobile video. Apple - whether simply because of the app's popularity or due to its partnership with Twitter - placed the app in its "editor's choice" section. Watch that phrase, "editor's choice".

This week, the "editor's choice" section of Vine featured some pornography, an error Twitter claims was human. Apple pulled it from its "editor's choice" section, but kept the app live. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Networks where anyone can upload anything are sure to include porn every now and then - that's just the internet. You don't want in front and centre on your app store, but it isn't a bannable offense. Only, Apple banned the popular 500 px (kind of like Flickr) app a few weeks ago, claiming it was too easy to find porn through the service.

Inappropriate content on social networks is always a bit of a pain. Facebook and Instagram try to keep pretty G-Rated, but Tumblr obviously doesn't care. Apple hasn't banned them.

As has been typed countless times before, iPhones come with an app that can find some pretty saucy stuff in a matter of seconds - that is, Safari - but still chooses to ban certain apps that feature nudity. 500px doesn't even allow porn - it only allows "artful nudity". Speculation is rife as to whether Apple will block Vine, but it doesn't look as though they will. Twitter, who own Vine, are their partners after all, and Vine is a little big to be so easily dismissed, unlike these unlucky apps.

So how much control do we want Apple to have over our lives? Yes, the App Store is technically theirs to do what they please with, but shouldn't they at least try to enforce the rules evenly? The "closed garden" of iOS - every app on the iPhone or iPad must be approved - is a large part of what makes the iPhone so good. Apple's control means you don't spend hours sifting through buggy apps to find what you want. Apple wants more than technical control though - it wants full censorship powers. No freedom is absolute, and of course you don't want anything illegal on the app store, but Apple is being a little puritanical about this.

I don't actually understand why people want porn on the go, but trying to block all apps that feature nudity just seems unworkable. Why not work out an adult section of the store, as Google does? Closed gardens are great for app quality, but the flaws inherent in having to approve every single app are pretty clear.

Does Apple have a right to ban whatever it wants from its own store, or is it being tyrannical?

Update: 500px is back in the App Store, as dbnd down in the comments points out. I have to write these blogs the night before, tricky with fast moving stories. While this blunts the immediate newsworthiness, I believe the wider issue of adult material on iOS devices is still a valid one. Apple have a right to control their own ecosystem, but the larger it gets, the weirder these artificial boundaries will seem. 500px was too popular to keep banned, but hundreds of other apps without followings probably wouldn't have made it back in.

Email Henry or follow him on Twitter.

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