Last week, with much fanfare and comment, Apple released its previously mysterious “rules” surrounding the rejection or acceptance of applications for the App Store. The newly published rules for what’s acceptable or over the line have exposed a mindset that can be summed up in the document’s own words: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
It might strike some as a bit “over the line” for a computer gadget company to equate themselves to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that’s what you’ll find in this remarkable document. Apple actually got the line slightly wrong. The famous phrase written by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 obscenity case was “…I know it when I see it…” In other words, Apple can’t precisely define what’s over the line, but you can trust them to make that call, usually with the words at the end that say “…will be rejected.”
So what’s over the line in Apple’s AppWorld? This space will leave the debate over technical do’s and don’ts to the hardcore developers. More interesting are the “moral” issues that Apple is obviously grappling with as the number of approved apps hits 250,000 and climbing. Realistic images of bodily harm to people or animals will be rejected. So will targeting “enemies” based on specific race, culture, a real government or corporation. Also rejected are realistic depictions or encouraging reckless use of weapons or Russian roulette. These rules alone would eliminate about 90 percent of the commercial video game market today.
Pornography is out too. Interestingly, while Apple says that any app which is “…defamatory, offensive, mean spirited…” will be rejected, they added a qualifier that professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from this ban. Widely followed bloggers and fulltime web video producers who create and distribute some pretty wild stuff may test the definition of “professional” rather quickly.
Just to cover their bases, Apple included two simple sentences that will give them plenty of room to reject anything they don’t want in the store. Under the heading “objectionable content,” Apple will reject “excessively objectionable or crude content” along with anything “primarily designed to upset or disgust users.” All well and good, but will this be enough to keep the Oakland Raiders off Apple gadgets?
Apple deserves credit for taking us behind the curtain and showing more clearly how they approve or reject submitted apps. Now the interesting debate will be whether as “they know it when they see it”, the rest of us will see it the same way.