The Telegraph’s Richard Gray has compiled a list of ten apps that Apple does not want you to use. In my view, half of these apps are dumb gimmicks that any curated app store wouldn’t want: A game where you throw your phone as high as you can; titillation apps featuring ‘interactive’ girls in bikinis; an app that did literally nothing except cost $1,000.
However, some of the other rejected apps represent far more serious acts of censorship and monopolistic behaviour on the part of Apple, like the Wikileaks app that let users read the Iraq war logs, or Scratch, an MIT project to help teach children programming. I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a more serious list of apps banned by Apple.
These are the apps that Apple really does not want you to use. Perhaps you’ll even agree with some of their choices…
Apple doesn’t think tackling taboos can be the domain of video games. That’s the message its ban on Sweatshop sends out.
So say Littleloud, who produced Sweatshop HD for Channel 4. In the game players hire and fire workers who stitch together baseball caps, trainers and sweatshirts.
To maximise profits (and gain the highest score) the players have the option to hire cheaper child workers, speed up the belts to increase the work rate, neglect to hire fire officers and to generally cut corners. Video game players have been trained for efficiency and know how to work systems in order to maximise score – just like a sweatshop factory manager.
As play progresses, the game begins to reveal the effects of this way of working, of viewing workers as mere “units”.
You can play Sweatshop online at Playsweatshop.com.
Phone Story is an educational game about the hidden social costs of smartphone manufacturing. Follow your phone’s journey from the Coltan mines of the Congo to the electronic waste dumps in Pakistan through four colorful mini-games. Compete with market forces in an endless spiral of technological obsolescence.
Remarkably Apple did briefly allow Phone Story in the App Store, but quickly removed it citing the games depictions of child abuse, objectionable or crude content and (curiously) promises to turn over a portion of the money to charity as justification for the app’s rejection.
Android users can buy Phone Story in the Google Play store.
- Wired: Apple Bans Phone Story Game That Exposes Seedy Side of Smartphone Creation
- The Guardian: Apple bans satirical iPhone game Phone Story from its App Store
Endgame: Syria was rejected by Apple because of their guideline which prohibits games that “solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity.” It was later resubmitted it to Apple as Endgame: Eurasia, a snarky reference to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The developers later took the game engine and turned it into a more innocent Shakespeare kids game, Hemmings’ Play Company.
A parody game in which users execute North Korean dissidents by firing squad to appease The Divine Leader. This app was already heavily self-censored by the app creator (compared to his existing Android version), but was still rejected.
A drone strike alerts app that sends you a push notification every time there’s a drone strike, rejected by Apple for being “objectionable and crude.”
Begley is confused. Drones+ doesn’t present grisly images of corpses left in the aftermath of the strikes. It just tells users when a strike has occurred, going off a publicly available database of strikes compiled by the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which compiles media accounts of the strikes.
As with the Wikileaks app that Apple also banned (saying that “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or targeted group in harm’s way”) it’s hard to make sense of the reasons unless you conclude that Apple simply doesn’t want to upset Washington.
In 2009 Apple banned cartoon app NewsToons on the grounds that it ‘ridiculed public figures.’ In 2010 the cartoonist – Mark Fiore – won the Pulitzer prize for his political satire cartoons. Following public outcry, Apple asked Fiore to resubmit his app, and it was subsequently accepted. Fiore said, “Sure, mine might get approved, but what about someone who hasn’t won a Pulitzer and who is maybe making a better political app than mine? Do you need some media frenzy to get an app approved that has political material?” (via Wikipedia)
Apple seems pretty sensitive on the subject of humiliating public figures. They initially rejected a directory listing every US senator and congressman because it contained caricatures of the politicians. Apple felt the depiction of Nancy Pelosi was particularly unflattering. In another banned ‘satirical’ game called My Shoe the player threw shoes at George W. Bush.
An app that helps users find other apps for free was pulled after 5 years in the App Store for – Apple says – violating a pair of its developer guidelines: one that bars displaying apps for purchase “in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store” and another that bans push notifications that contain advertising or “marketing of any kind.”
Similar store-like apps were also removed, including AppShopper.
- CNN: Apple bans app in possible new wave of crackdowns
- Developer’s blog: AppGratis pulled from the App Store. Here’s the full story.
In 2010 Apple suddenly banned hotspot-sniffing applications after a change in its policies regarding how apps leverage Wi-Fi.
Apple originally rejected this official C64 emulator because it prohibits apps that use interpreted or executable code. The app was later accepted after the developer made some changes, but it was soon revealed that there was an easter egg that allowed access to the BASIC interpreter. The app was pulled and later reinstated.
Baby Shaker was actually approved for the app store at first, and removed later due to complaints. The game allowed the user to shake their phone until an image of a cartoon baby on the screen died.
Various apps censored for erotica, nudity, homosexuality, rude words… basically anything slightly naughty could be in trouble
Both of the above comics were very tame, so when it seemed that Apple had banned an issue of Saga for a ‘postage stamp sized’ depiction of a blowjob, Apple detractors and series creator Brian K. Vaughan whipped up a fury. It later transpired that publisher Comixology had not actually submitted the issue to Apple on the assumption (so they claim) it would be rejected. A chilling effect in action perhaps?*
Rude, lewd and crude apps can be removed without rhyme, reason or consistency (disallowing Page 3 content from The Sun while allowing Playboy for example). In 2010 Apple purged many ‘explicit’ apps from their store (after briefly flirting with an official explicit category). Explaining why brands like Sports Illustrated were being left alone, Apple exec Phil Schiller explained that “The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format.”
Good luck creating a new porn empire on Apple’s platform though.
- Huffington Post: Apple Censorship: From The ‘Kama Sutra’ To ‘Ulysses,’ 9 Books And Book Apps Apple Has Censored Or Rejected
- Huffington Post: Apple’s ‘Explicit’ App Category KILLED: Sexy Apps Take A Blow
“You know, there’s a porn store for Android. You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go – so we’re not going to go there.”
Steve Jobs, 2010
Eucalyptus / The Kama Sutra
This e-reader app for the iPhone was rejected by Apple in 2009 because it offered access to the entire Project Gutenberg catalog of out-of-copyright books, which includes the Kama Sutra. Jamie Montgomerie posted about the rejection on his blog, including copies of the maddening email exchanges with Apple. The app was eventually cleared.
BWF helps you find a Facebook friend to hook up with, sends the person a ‘nudge’ to indicates your interest and if that person likes the idea, then the rest is up to you.
Android users can bang away on the Google Play store.
- Business Insider: Apple Yanks Bang With Friends From App Store
The Manhattan Declaration and Setting Captives Free
After receiving thousands of complaints Apple removed the Manhattan Declaration app from the App Store. The app espoused anti-gay and anti-abortion views and was originally released by a religious group.
Setting Captives Free was another Christian app pulled after objections were raised. Designed to help users battle “habitual sins” such as sexual impurity, substance abuse, self-injury, gambling … and homosexuality. The app featured a ‘chapter’ of content titled “Door of Hope: Freedom from the Bondage of Homosexuality”. Gay Android users can still be ‘cured’ via Google’s Play store.
- TUAW: On the Manhattan Declaration and Apple’s curation of the App Store
- Macworld: Apple pulls app that claimed to ‘cure’ homosexuality
Treehouse app censored for teaching users how to program for Android
We teach Android at Treehouse as well, but Apple has refused to let us release the app while including Android content. At the time of review several other applications in the App Store included Android content, but in our case we were told it was against App Store guidelines to have Android content in our app.
Google Voice and other apps that ‘duplicate functionality’
In 2009 Apple rejected a Google Latitude app, forcing Google to make a less powerful web app version, Later that year they also rejected a more significant Google Voice. A Google spokesman told TechCrunch:
“We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users – for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.”
In response to FCC questions, Apple denied that it had actually rejected the app – rather it was ‘still looking into it’:
Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.
Apple later approved Google Voice. In this period many apps were rejected for ‘duplicating functionality’ (which is really another way of saying ‘providing competition’), but Apple eventually relaxed this condition allowing for VOIP apps (Skype), podcast catchers (Instacast, Downcast), alternate email clients (Gmail and Mailbox), browsers (Chrome, Firefox and Opera), calendar apps etc.
While this is a type of restriction that Apple seem to have moved away from, these were at one time very much apps that Apple didn’t want us to use.
* I and others suspected that Comixology deliberately held back the issue to boost sales on their website, where Apple doesn’t take 30% of the profit. Just a theory.