Apple, the Reluctant Arbiter, Needs an Advisory Council

| Hidden Dimensions

 “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” — Saint Augustine 

In my last Hidden Dimensions column I argued that modern technology trends, fate, and Apple’s self-imposed obligation to customers have led to Apple becoming the ultimate arbiter of which apps get approved for the App Store. But that doesn’t mean that Apple has to go it alone. Here’s a proposal.

Lady Justice

Apple has had a few notable problems making the decision about which apps to approve (or subsequently pull) based on its own guidelines. Some apps have been approved, then pulled based on petitions. A notable app was rejected, then approved when public pressure overruled Apple’s guideline that proved too poorly formulated.

This latter case happened when a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Mark Fiore, submitted an app (NewToons) with political satire. Apple rejected the app at first because it violated Apple’s prohibition against defamation. Public pressure and the fact that political satire from accomplished writers is an American tradition trumped Apple’s incomplete guidelines.

More recently, Apple has gotten into trouble with two apps that purported to help people understand their sexuality. From TMO, Nov 30, 2010: “Apple has pulled an app from the App Store that espoused an anti-gay and anti-abortion agenda called Manhattan Declaration from a group with the same name. The app had been approved and given a 4+ age rating, a rating that means the app contains ‘no objectionable material,’ but Apple pulled the app over the Thanksgiving weekend after PinkNews got more than seven thousand signatures asking for the app to be pulled.”

The same thing happened with the Exodus International app recently. The app was initially declared to have no objectionable material — until petitioners objected and Apple caved.

What this is telling me is that Apple, as an arbiter of suitable material for own App Store is more in the Jimmy Olsen phase of its editorship, not the Perry White phase. Apple arbiters need more experience and, barring that, more guidance. The reason is that there’s a very, very fine line between letting people have a platform, even when one doesn’t agree with it (tolerance) and objecting to a platform that’s fundamentally wrong based on our best sense of national story developed through western values, grace and wisdom. Cases keep coming along that test that fine line.

A Proposal

This kind of painful waffling has happened before. One case of particular interest to me is Galileo Galilei. In 1633, Galileo was ordered under house arrest for heresy. Galileo’s observation of the planet Jupiter, through the telescope he constructed himself, revealed that there were objects (Jupiter’s moons) that were in orbit around another heavenly body — in contradiction to the Catholic Church’s views of scripture. Galileo also believed, contrary to accepted scripture, that the earth revolved around the sun. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church believed that it knew all about the origin and structure of the universe, (at least the universe it knew at the time), and that the Earth is the center of everything, unmovable. Galileo, for his detailed observations of the sky, was declared a heretic.

Galileo

 Galileo Galilei

It’s easy to see how both sides believed they were in possession of the truth.

Today, a wiser Catholic Church maintains an advisory council on science as it relates to religion. The “Pontifical Academy of Sciences” has astrophysicists, biologists, geneticists, particle/nuclear physicists and climatologists. They meet regularly to advise the Vatican.

If the Catholic Church can muster the grace and humility to have advisors, why can’t Apple? 

Of course, Apple has gotten into trouble in the past with advisory committees. As soon as some people are selected for this kind of position, they tend to go public, bask in their power, and start telling Apple what to do.

Apple hates being told what to do.

This is how the council would have to work. The members cannot reveal publicly that they’ve been nominated to the council. They don’t get paid. Apple can accept or reject their advice. They can be dismissed by Apple at any time.

This Apple Advisory council would have members personally contacted and offered the position as discreet advisors. The council would only contain distinguished men and women who have demonstrated accomplishment, strong values, and strong influence in the community. Awards, as recognition of their past service and universal recognition of their excellence, would count heavily.

Here is a sampling of what such a council could look like. Of course, Apple will have it own ideas, but for starters I would suggest: Distinguished professors of ethics, senior members from the major religions, civil rights leaders, a senior law enforcement official or two, a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a few attorneys who specialize in ethics and civil liberties, and a senior, distinguished newspaper editor or two.

When sticky issues come up, and they will continue to arise with ever more nuance and difficulties, this council could provide Apple with the best possible advice. Apple would make the final decision, but be much better informed. There would be fewer reversed decisions, and Apple wouldn’t have to depend on feverish petitions submitted by the most vocal of customers nor have to agonize over poorly written or incomplete internal guidelines for borderline cases.

Best if all, it’s all transparent to the customers. Council members, wisely selected for their desire to be of service, not promote their own careers, wouldn’t be bickering in public. I know this could work because I did it myself when I worked for Apple — I had my own discreet Apple Science Advisory Group (ASAG) with about a hundred members. They were technical, wise, helpful, and worked with me behind the scenes to guide Apple’s support of science and technology.

We’ll never know if Apple adopts this idea. Perhaps the company already has. However, if Apple has not, I humbly recommend they act as wisely and prudently as the Roman Catholic Church has and avoid any more embarrassing decisions by young Apple executives who are over their heads in law, ethics, religion and civil liberties.

It’s a fantasy to believe that Apple will stop curating its own store. So long as the company is committed to the job, it should seek quality, experienced guidance on the most difficult cases.

Comments

Lee Dronick

Do we know the system they currently have? Is it a certain number of techs, each with a different belief/faith/ideology, vetting apps. Are there managers who spot check and can make changes. Maybe they don’t need an independent advisory council, maybe all the tech need are more guidelines and training.

Dorje

That won’t work. An unpaid, unannounced, essentially public servant over watch with no real pull is doomed to fail. Apple will just ignore them, the advisers will get pissed and leak to the press, and it all collapses in an ugly mess.

What Apple can fix is their busted ass App rating system and parental controls on iOS devices. Clearly pro-gay or anti-gay you’re going to have fail divisive and offensive content to a sizable cross-section of buyers. Why would such Apps not begin at 17+, why is Apple’s default 4+?

They can also do a better job of tagging and filtering Apps by subject. For example if I want to filter out all Fart Joke based apps while browsing the App store… I can’t. Apple doesn’t have that kind of system in place.

Apple should work with developers to create a Tagging system for Apps. It would be a good event to add to WWDC. Developers who deliberate miss-tag or try to fudge what their app is about can get a legitimate boot.

Take a look at the ESRB ratings for video games. Not just the overall T for Teen or M for Mature (which many parents ignore anyways), but the detailed breakdowns. Duke Nukem Forever: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol. Follow up with a real summary http://www.esrb.org/ratings/synopsis.jsp?Certificate=30650 and you have a fairly good idea this is not a “nice” game.

Apple needs an ESRB like rating/summery + Tagging if it want me to stop rolling my eyes every time they do dumb shit with the App Store. What’s the 30% cut going to?

John Martellaro

As I mentioned in the essay, it already worked.

Nemo

John:  I think that the better idea is for Apple to permit all civil and decent discourse, but even following and applying that rule requires decision makers.  And I think that your idea is an excellent compromise, though I would change some of its procedures and provide a substantive rule of decision.  First, I would set the principle that the Advisory Committee (Committee) should, except where it would prejudice Apple’s business interests to do so, permit all civil and decent discourse.  The Committee’s work would be in deciding what is civil and decent according to the standards of modern civilized western societies. 

The Committee would provide a written opinion that would set forth the facts, the reasoning, and the conclusions supports and explains its decision.  The Committee’s decision would be only advisory.  However, Apple’s Board, as Apple’s ultimate management authority, would be provided with the Committee’s decision.  But the Committee’s decision would be confidential, and only Apple’s senior management and its Board would be privy to the Committee’s opinion.

The members of the Committee should not serve at the pleasure of Apple’s senior management.  If that were permitted, that would thoroughly compromise the Committee’s independence.  Apple’s Board should select the members of the Committee based on people, such as lawyers, academics, business people, and others, who have unimpeachable character and expertise in dealing with free speech, cultural, social, and ethical issues.  The member of the Committee, let’s say nine people, should sever staggered three years terms and should only be removed for cause that relates to incompetence or illegal or unethical conduct.  Apple’s Board would adjudicate any removal of a Committee member for cause.

A matter would be referred to the Committee only when there is a dispute about removing or allowing an app based on the content of the speech expressed in that app.

And the Committee’s member should also be compensated for their service, both to cover their expense but also to provide, let’s say, compensation at an hourly rate that reflects the billing rate that a professional would normally receive for arbitrating disputes.  For lawyers that server as arbitrators this could range from three to five hundred dollars per hour.  But I know from hiring top flight arbitrators, those are fair fees.  It is too much to ask people to take on this kind of work for free, even for the distinguished honor of advising Apple.

All in all, John propose not only an excellent way to compromise disputes on controversial issues that is fair and that removes Apple, provided that it follows the Committee’s recommendations, from the center of these types of controversies, while not abandoning its responsibility, as has Google, for managing and curating its App Store, but his proposal is also very wise.

So I concur in urging Apple to adopt Mr. Martellaro’s compromise, as I have amended it.

ilikeimac

John, the EFF guy would just vote to accept everything submitted to The App Store (and to abolish the store’s DRM, and the approval process, and the locking down of iOS itself).

Ted Landau

John:

I tend to agree with Dorje that this will ultimately not work ? despite your assertion that it already has. I am troubled by a number of aspects of the idea, but the single biggest one is this: From the public’s perspective, having a panel that the public does not even know exists is no different than having no panel at all.

The best one could hope is that Apple’s decisions may be more informed, and thus “better”, as a result of the panel. There is no guarantee of this, of course. But one can hope. Regardless, the public’s confidence in and acceptance of such decisions will remain unchanged ? as the public is unaware of any panel input.

For example, suppose I was concerned that my boss was making bad decisions about the future of the company ? at least from my perspective. I express my discontent. Rather than fire me, he decides to set up a secret advisory council to report only to him - to help him with future key decisions.

If I knew about the council, and thought it was competent and believed that their advice might actually be accepted by my boss, I would likely be more quiet and accepting of future decisions. After all, it would no longer be just my unwise boss making these decisions, it could be the consensus of the wise council.

But since I don’t even know that the council exists, and since I wouldn’t know if their advice had any impact even if I knew about the council, I remain convinced that any “poor” decisions (or good ones for that matter) are entirely my boss’ doing ? and his alone. Nothing, as far as I can tell, has changed. Unless the quality of the decisions dramatically improves (and I doubt that they would, as the council’s advice is not binding), my (lack of) confidence in my boss’s decisions remains the same.

Even in your own example of the Vatican, at least we know that the council exists and who is on it. That’s a critical difference from your Apple proposal.

For what it’s worth, I also don’t believe that such a council could be kept secret for long. There would at least be rumors. I also would not assume that people who leave the council could be trusted to remain mum. And I don’t believe that Apple would follow the advice of the council if the advice differed from what Apple executives wanted to do. But even if none of this was so, the secrecy problem would still remain.

skipaq

IMHO, Apple should stick to the legal and technological merits of Apps that are submitted for approval. If an app violates the law it should be rejected. If an app violates Apple’s programming rules it should be rejected.

While I would never buy or use any adult content app; these along with political, religious and other controversial apps should be accepted. The app store is already divided into categories. Just put these in their own categories and put warnings, restrictions or whatever controls are needed on these categories.

The concept of rejecting an app because it is offensive is not something that is desirable.

Lee Dronick

From the Academy’s website

“Candidates for a seat in the Academy are chosen by the Academy on the basis of their eminent original scientific studies and of their acknowledged moral personality, without any ethnical or religious discrimination, and are appointed for life by sovereign act of the Holy Father.”

geoduck

Are we demanding that Apple be held to a higher standard than other retailers?

In many small communities Walmart has a majority of the retail space and impact on the market but does anyone question how they select items and if they are only stocking items that match the Walton family’s political viewpoint. It’s Apple’s store and they will put stuff in it or take stuff out of it based on profit the same as Target or Amazon, or Walmart

Expecting Apple to be any better than other profit driven corporate entities seems unrealistic.

Nemo

Ted: Apple doesn’t have to do anything other than what it does now, which is to run its App Store as it pleases, subject only to applicable law.  Just as a boss can fire at will his at-will employees.  John’s proposal, as I amended it, would at least provide Apple’s Board with a good and well reasoned opinion applying a rule of decision, all civil and decent discourse, that is as inclusive as as one could reasonably wish. 

As Apple’s ultimate management authority, Apple’s Board could order its CEO to comply with the Advisory Committee’s (Committee’s) decision, or it could order the CEO to disregard the Committee’s opinion and obey its instruction.  But at least the opinion would be there.  And there would be a strong incentive for Apple’s Board to remove Apple from controversies by both honoring the Committee’s opinion and disclosing that opinion to the public, while reserving its right to do neither of those things.

I think that on most occasions Apple’s Board and its CEO would comply with the Committee’s decision and publish it.  For Apple’s CEO to defy the Committee’s opinion, he would have to make a good argument for doing so with the Board.  And, if the Board overrode the Committee’s decision, it would be going it alone without the cover of its Committee’s independent, expert, and unbiased opinion.

Is this perfect, no it is not.  But it is a big improvement on what Apple apparently has now.  And since Apple’s Board may not abdicate its authority to manage Apple, and advisory opinion is, therefore, as good as you can do, unless you made the Advisory Committee a committee of the Board.  And, while a decision by committee of the Board would be binding and final, unless the entire Board reconsidered the matter, Apple would be praised and/or blamed for its decision accepting or rejecting all controversial apps, without being able to say that an independent Committee of the finest experts opined in support of the decision to either remove or accept a controversial app.

Therefore, John proposal is a big improvement, as provides Apple with independent expert decision to inform and guide Apple’s ultimate decision.  And removes Apple from, or at least abates, controversy, if it follows its Committee’s decision.  That is in my view about three quarters of a loaf, when you have no loaf now, and Apple is under no obligation to give you even a slice of bread.

Lee Dronick

but does anyone question how they select items and if they are only stocking items that match the Walton family?s political viewpoint.

I have read some criticism of them, but I don’t know of any lawsuits trying to get them to offer adult items such as DVDs, magazines, or books. Now that may be because the plaintiffs have to live in that small town where pretty much the only retailer is WalMart; They just get their material online or from mail order and avoid the social stigmatism.

Ted Landau

For Apple?s CEO to defy the Committee?s opinion, he would have to make a good argument for doing so with the Board.? And, if the Board overrode the Committee?s decision, it would be going it alone without the cover of its Committee?s independent, expert, and unbiased opinion.

This, and most of the rest of your argument, assumes that the Committee and its decisions are not secret. That makes it a very different animal from what I criticized.

Nemo

Geoduck:  Yes, I am demanding that Apple be better than other retailers and set an example on how controversial apps should be handled on online app stores.  Apple strives for superior excellence in every other aspect of its business, so let it also do so here by establishing an Advisory Committee as Mr. Martellaro proposes. 

Would that hurt Apple’s business?  But Apple isn’t now following its business interest in removing apps from its App Store, for its decision to date are as likely to cost Apple as much business, if not more, than it preserves. As I said, supra, the Committee’s decision to permit civil and decent apps would not be applied to the prejudice of Apple’s business interest.  Also, following the opinion of independent experts removes from Apple most, if not all, of the culpability for removing or accepting controversial apps on its App Store.  Thus, by following my modification on Mr. Martellaro’s proposal, Apple would be doing more to protect its business interests than its prior decisions to removw apps have done.  It would also be doing the right thing and would extend Apple’s reputation for excellence to the decision to remove or accept controversial apps, which an aspect of its business where Apple has been far from excellent.

daemon

John,

There’s nothing reluctant about what Apple has done in regards to Applications on the iPhone and iPad.

Apple and Steve Jobs have jumped whole hog into controlling every aspect of you and how you can use their products.

Fight Big Brother.

John Martellaro

: From the public?s perspective, having a panel that the public does not even know exists is no different than having no panel at all.

Ted: That has the ring of iron clad logic, but it fails. In this case, a public tribunal defeats the purpose of discreet advice. When I ask my wife for advice on an article, I don’t publish the transcript.

geoduck

This, and most of the rest of your argument, assumes that the Committee and its decisions are not secret

Which got me to thinking whether Apple could just say it had a committee and use it as a fig leaf for whatever they wanted to do.

“Our Committee decided that AppX was not in the best interest of the Apple Store”
“Our Committee decided that we had no ethical reason to block AppY”.

Who’s to know if the “members” are sworn to secrecy.

In the long run if (when) it got out it would be very embarrassing but I could see this argument floating around the boardroom.

mhikl

Assuming the apps in question are text expressed opinion/view, information in textual form only, skipaq’s point about putting them

“in their own categories and put warnings, restrictions or whatever controls are needed on these categories”

makes sense.

Anyone who is going to use them is probably literate enough, old enough and interested enough to scan them. Voices can then be heard. Reader complaint and discussion could be made from within the app to a corresponding address where participators could link and be out of the way of Apple and the bored*.

Personally, I think the preacher, teacher, rant entreater should wangle with its own sort and leave the bored* and life-invested alone. They have their own forums and cathedrals and village squares for setting up soapboxes from which to rant, discuss and harass or anyway stir the air. Why does Apple or any other outlet need to support the wind of others? But if not addressing this question at all puts democratic speech at peril, then this kind of nook for the kook should suffice.

* this is not a homonym error.

Nemo

Ted:  No it does not.  A good Board will exercise its authority to monitor and control its management and perform its duty to protect Apple’s business interests, whether or not it chooses to publish the Advisory Committee’s (Committee’s) opinion.  Senior managers have to answers to their boards everyday, without public scrutiny being necessary.  If the Committee opined to accept an app or reject an app, but the CEO dissented.  That CEO would have to explain himself to his Board, whether or not there is public scrutiny. 

Public scrutiny would means that public pressure would be applied.  But that will happen in any case and could only be eliminated or mitigated by publishing the Committee’s opinion, which is why I think that the Board would most often direct that the Committee’s opinion be published and complied with.

Ted Landau

When I ask my wife for advice on an article, I don?t publish the transcript.

Yes. And maybe your wife gives you terrible advice. And maybe you don’t follow it anyway. It doesn’t really matter. No one who reads your columns cares one way or the other. You - and you alone - are held accountable for what you write. And so it is with Apple.

A secret board may (and it’s a big “may”) improve Apple’s decision making. Or it may make it worse. Either way, it has no effect on the public’s perception of the decision-making process. To the extent that the public is critical of Apple’s decisions and how they are made, nothing will change. That’s all I’m saying.

Nemo

Geoduck:  That there is such a Committee and who its members are should be made public.  I think that Apple should also make public the Committee’s substantive rules of decision for deciding a controversy about the content of an app’s speech.  However, the Committee’s deliberations would always remain sealed, and its opinion would also be confidential, unless Apple’s Board chose to publish the Committee’s opinion.

Nemo

Ted:  If Apple wants to get out of a too hot a controversy, it, as I said several times, supra, could always publish the Committee’s opinion and indicate that it will comply with that independent, expert opinion.

John Martellaro

All of Apple’s key, critical competitive decisions are made in secret—until we know the outcome on launch day.

In this case, the outcome is also good decision making, in an area that seems, so far, slightly beyond Apple’s expertise, thanks to expert confidants. Not much difference there.

Ted Landau

could always publish the Committee?s opinion and indicate that it will comply with that independent, expert opinion.

It cannot publish the Committee’s opinion if, as John seemed to indicate, the very existence of the Committee must be kept secret. [On reflection, maybe John only meant that the members of the Committee and their decisions would be kept secret. John can best answer that for himself.]

Nemo

While I am in general agreement with John’s proposal, I dissent from him on keeping the existence of the Committee confidential, and I would organize the Committee so that the Board could publish its opinions, if the Board thought publication of an opinion was in Apple’s best interest.  Since this could subject the members of the Committee to some controversy, that is why I would pay them a professional wage for their expertise, their work, and for taking most of the heat that would otherwise be direct at Apple.

Nemo

I have got to go, but I will check later this evening to see how our discussion has advanced.

John Martellaro

Ted, Nemo: I don’t see value in publishing the results.  Everyone seems to have the idea that because Apple is a public company that this council, its rules, its existence and its decisions must be endorsed or at least evaluated by the public.

That’s nonsense.

Any Apple executive should be able to discreetly pick up the phone, call a distinguished clergyman, and ask for his advice. Or poll the whole council. The ONLY metric for success is better advice, sounder decisions, more self-confidence by Apple in its decisions, and less controversy.

Ted Landau

All of Apple?s key, critical competitive decisions are made in secret?until we know the outcome on launch day.

I guess this is a difference of perspectives. Like the Doomsday Device in Dr. Strangelove, I see at least part of the value of the Committee coming from the public awareness of what is going on. Apple is always free to ask anyone it wants for advice ? without the need for a formal structure such as you describe. The formal committee offers the bonus of positive PR value. This gets lost if no one knows it exists.

You seem to have confidence that this Committee will improve Apple’s decisions ? and that this alone is enough justification for its secret existence. I don’t share that optimism.

John Martellaro

Nemo: paying council is a very bad idea.  It empowers them in a way that defeats the purpose of the council.  It would be like a prospective couple paying their minister for advice on marriage.

When people freely provide counsel because they want to make a personal contribution to society, rather than enrich themselves, the advice comes from the heart, untainted.

Lee Dronick

I have got to go, but I will check later this evening to see how our discussion has advanced.

Bring a micrometer smile

Ted Landau

It empowers them in a way that defeats the purpose of the council.? It would be like a prospective couple paying their minister for advice on marriage.

Devil’s advocate here: Don’t ministers get paid by their parishioners in a general way, via donations etc.? Just not on a direct fee per advice given basis. Same would be true of a council for Apple.

[Like Nemo, I too have to return to other tasks. It’s been fun. I’ll check back later.]

John Martellaro

You seem to have confidence that this Committee will improve Apple?s decisions ? and that this alone is enough justification for its secret existence. I don?t share that optimism.

Ted: that’s where some really good judgment comes in on the selection of the council members.  I briefly outlined some requirements in the article.

If Apple has no one (or a team) on the board of directors or within the company who has the maturity, values and judgment to select such a council, then Apple is in trouble.  But I sense that Mr. Jobs, raised by certain values and sobered in this life by his health issues, is a man who could select such a council.

John Martellaro

Don?t ministers get paid by their parishioners in a general way, via donations etc.?

Ted: You make my point for me.  The [Apple] council members are already employed and compensated for their work. It’s their profession. Paying them again for their personal advice to Apple would be like that couple paying the minister cash under the table. It taints his honor in the most direct possible way, even though the congregation, at a higher level, provides him or her with general subsistence.

Windsor Smith

In many small communities Walmart has a majority of the retail space and impact on the market but does anyone question how they select items and if they are only stocking items that match the Walton family?s political viewpoint.

The Walmart comparison is flawed. Even in small communities where Walmart is dominant, individuals can still mail-order stuff that’s not available from Walmart, for about the same cost. Also, there’s nothing stopping competitors from opening smaller stores if customers are dissatisfied with the selection offered by Walmart.

But with the App Store, if I want something that Apple doesn’t approve, I’d have to buy a different phone and learn a different OS, pay any early termination fee imposed by my carrier, and repurchase all the other apps I had on my iOS device. Those are substantial barriers.

Apple doesn’t curate the books and music it sells so I’m not sure why Martellaro asserts that it’s “a fantasy to believe that Apple will stop curating its own store.” But if that’s true then Apple should at least allow other stores to sell iOS apps. Apple could then continue to review every iOS app sold in any store to ensure it has no malware and conforms to technical requirements (e.g. “Apps that read or write data outside its designated container area will be rejected”), but the content restrictions would be relaxed for non-Apple stores.

That way, we wouldn’t need another layer of bureaucracy, such as an advisory council, with its own set of rules, politics, and controversies. And responsibility for defining the “national story” would be removed from any one corporation and placed back in the hands of the populace—where it belongs.

geoduck

Apple doesn?t curate the books and music it sells so I?m not sure why Martellaro asserts that it?s ?a fantasy to believe that Apple will stop curating its own store.?

Very good point. I’ve come around to the idea that Apple should just check for function and malware but if there’s not a technical reason to block it then let it go. iTunes has things marked “Explicit” and I don’t hear nearly the complaits. If they want to have some restriction then have a separate “Adult” store with some checks. But as soon as Apple tries to say this is OK and that is not then people will get p1$$ed. They can’t win.

iJack

That won?t work. An unpaid, unannounced, essentially public servant over watch with no real pull is doomed to fail. Apple will just ignore them, the advisers will get pissed and leak to the press, and it all collapses in an ugly mess.

I’m pretty sure you missed the point.  Apple wouldn’t ignore the advisory council because they would be doing work that Apple really doesn’t want any part of.  And in the end, it’s only advice that Apple would be getting.  They would not be giving up control of the App Store.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, the single biggest problem with your proposal is that it does not solve the fundamental issue. You have an app, and a binary decision to approve or disapprove it. Some people and/or Apple’s business interests/philosophy will line up on one side. Some people and/or Apple’s business interests/philosophy will line up on the other side. Only one of the two constituencies can be satisfied with the decision. That’s why Apple as ultimate decider is problematic. Having a review board, public or private, just means the decision is more complicated. But ultimately it gets made and in more and more cases (because that is how evolution of sticky examples works) some big group will be pissed off.

I don’t think the buying public is cynical enough to know that their ox will eventually be gored if they stick in the iOS ecosystem for long enough. Mine was the first gored (South Park app). Nemo seems to have been awakened by MD and EI. mhikl will have to look elsewhere for underage gerbil pr0n.  But I do sense even among Apple fans that the excuse of the week is becoming some form of “yeah, they’re curating again”. You know that the system is both wrong and untenable. You know that the openness of Android, in terms of ability to get software just like you do on your desktop computer (well, until Apple locks that down), is what turned a surefire win in the phone market into a shrinking niche in less than 16 months, not even savable by the Verizon Unicorn. If you switch to a higher end Android phone the next time you have an opportunity, you won’t be missing a thing from your iPhone. And you won’t be supporting such a brain-dead system or the angst it arouses.

skipaq

While I think Apple should get out of the app approval business except for legal and technical issues; I still believe they have the right to run their store any way they choose. The committee approval concept wouldn’t change anything as far as people grumbling. They would just have more to complain about.

As far as Apple’s way of doing things is concerned; I prefer a curated system. There hasn’t been one app rejection that I cared anything about. As far as iOS becoming a shrinking niche in less than 16 months; that is prediction vague enough to make a fortuneteller proud. What share of the market will iOS have in 16 months? What constitutes a niche?

iOS IS a winner. It is still on fire as far as demand and sales. And that doesn’t mean that Android has to be a loser or have less market share. I have an iPhone4 and my wife has a 3gs. Her next phone will be a gen. 5 and mine will be a gen. 6 (which takes us past your Brad’s 16 months.) Expect tens of millions of others to still be making the same choice.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@skipaq: The 16 months already happened. In October, 2009, few had even heard of Android. Also, few are saying that Apple doesn’t have a right to run its store as it wants. That doesn’t give Apple a right to not face criticism, lobbying, etc.

The niche is being locked into Apple’s ecosystem. Like last night, Amazon announced cloud storage for your music, with players on PCs and Android. No iOS, because Apple doesn’t implement HTML5 completely and surely, Apple won’t approve such an app. Why you would lock yourself and your wife into a future upgrade in the Apple ghetto is beyond my comprehension. If you and the millions like you would at least say you are going to look around, Apple couldn’t get away with this crap for long.

Lee Dronick

There hasn?t been one app rejection that I cared anything about.

Same with me, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen in the future.

I have certain social-political positions on things, but if I want to express those I have to support people who take the opposite views. However, I expect the same from them, it is a two way street as long as we obey traffic and vehicular regulations. To that end we need clear guidelines as to what is allowed and not allowed in the App Store. Just as the State and DMV publish laws and regulations Apple could have page about apps.

skipaq

@skipaq: The 16 months already happened. In October, 2009, few had even heard of Android.

Well, this is one of those statements that is not going to convince anyone who thinks. iPhone comes out with little competition and a huge market share. Any competing mobile OS that had any significant sales was going to reduce that market share. This means nothing. Apple’s sales continue to grow.

Who is locked into Apple’s ecosystem? Because I choose it doesn’t make it a lock. Are you locked into Google’s ecosystem? I use Amazon to buy many things (including Apple products) but I no longer buy music there. Tried it and prefer iTunes. iOS will have cloud services for music as well as much more. Don’t care about Amazon’s service.

Why you would choose Android is beyond my comprehension. I have never purchased a PC; but I have used them. I prefer the Mac. I have never purchased an Android phone; but I have used some. I prefer (actually love) my iPhone 4. I held out a long time because of the antenna false alarm so I DID look around and found crap from others.

I happen to like Apple’s way of doing things better. You like Google’s. There is room for both. I hope both iOS and Android have a long future. At least until Apple comes out with the next greatest thing smile

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Why you would choose Android is beyond my comprehension. I have never purchased a PC; but I have used them. I prefer the Mac. I have never purchased an Android phone; but I have used some. I prefer (actually love) my iPhone 4. I held out a long time because of the antenna false alarm so I DID look around and found crap from others.

We’re past 3:2 people choosing Android over iPhone and approaching 2:1. You can get any phone you want now, Apple or Android, for $200 or less on contract, so price isn’t a huge issue for most. Subsidies should more than favor the better phone.

I’d just suggest that even if you intend to be an Apple homer, make them work for your business. It’s the combination of fawning fanboys plus stylish mall girls that give Apple the ability to cripple iOS with curation. Apple’s heavy handed curation ruined what was otherwise a good enough thing for me. I doubt I would have looked outside the ecosystem a year ago if they hadn’t gone control freak. Although I have found some amazing hardware, software, and services from companies that actually have to compete for my business!

Nemo

I am delighted to see a growing contingent of folks, who are presumably fans of Apple, take the position that Apple should not be deciding what apps to accept or reject beyond technical requirement and requiring that apps comport with civilized standards of civility and decency, because civility and decency are required by all main-stream media stores, whether online or brick and mortar.

What is more interesting to me are some comments from Mr. Martellaro questioning whether an Advisory Committee (Committee) should be more public and compensated and Bosco’s comments that Apple should, like Android, have almost no controls and very little control based on the content of an apps speech.

John first:  John purpose in proposing an advisory committee is simply to give Apple’s senior management and its Board sage advice, sort of what Vernon Jordan did for President Clinton, nothing formal or ever explicitly acknowledged but there for President Clinton to rely upon.  Well, if all one wants is for Apple’s decision on apps to be informed by wise men, then okay. 

But I have that and more in mind.  I want Apple to have the benefit of not only wise counsel but to have in place a formal system for providing that advice in the form of a formal opinion.  This not only provides Apple with sage advice but provides a mechanism for approving apps, as I’ve described it, supra, that:  wisely and fairly approves or disapproves of the speech in controversial apps; that largely removes Apple from culpability for approving apps, at least where the Board and/or senior management decides to follow and publish the Committee’s opinion; and that has some formal stature and standing inside of Apple so that dissent from the Committee’ opinion, while still fully the prerogative of management, cannot be done lightly.  John’s proposal for a secret group that no one knows of and that gives secret advice has none of these virtues.  That is why I think that my modification of his proposal is the better idea. 

And there is one other virtue of my proposal, if the Board decide to publish most of the Committee’s opinions:  Those opinions would establish a body of decisional authority that would guide Apple, the Committee, and developers in applying the same decisions to future similar disputes.  This would be invaluable to developers or their legal advisor who could know what apps are likely to be approved by applying past opinion that are factually on point with their apps.

And, of course, members of my Committee would recuse themselves or could be recused, if they had any interests in the app at issue.

John is also wrong about paying the members of the Committee.  Having been an arbitrator and hired them, I know that even John’s informal process and certainly my formal process are a lot of expensive work, if you want a worthwhile result.  If you have distinguished people, who make several hundred dollars an hour, not including benefits, diverting significant time to advising Apple, that is a lot of loss income to ask such an adviser to adsorb for the honor of advising Apple, and such loss income, which also belongs to your partners, would be even greater with my proposal, because it involves more work. 

This isn’t like giving an off-the-cuff opinion about some technical matter.  These are difficult decisions on controversial issues.  Sure, I and others can give a quick opinion, but neither I or Apple should rely on such cursory thought for any serious purpose, and I know that developers would hope that decisions about their apps received more serious and fair consideration.  So regardless of whether it is my formal process or John’s informal one, the costs are more than you can reasonably asks someone to absorb.

Bosco:  First, Android’s MarketPlace has regulations and controls that go beyond the mere technical.  Aside from Google protecting its interests by requiring that an Android device conform to its requirements, that users have a Google account, and that the Android device run Google’s apps, Google also limits apps, as it must, to apps that don’t defame and that don’t harms or prey upon minors and that comply with applicable law and that don’t commit or abet fraud and that meet some minimal standard of decency.  So Google curates too.  It is just that its standards are lower, but that is completely in character for Google.  So we aren’t talking about Apple moving to a no curation model, for no main-stream business does that.  What I proposing is that Apple establish a formal process for approving apps that comport with accepted civilized standards of civility and decency, which is the principle that comports with our shared value of free speech and respects the dignity of Apple’s customers to choose for themselves from among that population of civil and decent apps.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo: I’ll tell you where I come from. It’s the observation that power + committees + good intentions invariably equals jerks. Here’s a perfect example from the non-computer world, in Northern Ireland, where a family is waiting to see whether they can have their dog back after it was snatched and incarcerated by local officials under the auspices of an anti-pit-bull law. The episode makes me want to donate money to the IRA.

But to clarify a point, Nemo… Curation doesn’t protect iOS users from squat. All it does it erect a central toll booth, an Apple choke point. Apple would like you to buy into the myth that you’re too stupid to load apps on your phone without Apple’s help and blessing. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it ought to offend you to be treated as such. Android has side-loading, which means competing stores with competing values. It also means that when stores get out of line with any policy—including censoring mainstream, civil, and decent views—developers and users can bypass the stores without running afoul of anyone’s licenses. That is a guarantee of free expression that no committee can best.

Nemo

Well, Bosco, all major companies, including Apple and Google, have power, committees, and claim to have good intention—Google even claims to do no evil—so all major companies’ senior manager are jerks.  Now that we have established that, what are we going to do about it?  Can’t even curation, because everybody does and must curate to some extent.  John suggest that wise men advise Apple to help them mitigate the common jerkiness.  I think that Apple should do more than solicit wise advise for the reasons that I stated, supra. I propose the more formal process, supra, which for the reasons that I stated will server Apple much better than simply and solely receiving wisdom.

As for that toll both nonsense, everyone who has a store curates to some extent, and they all charge a commission to be on their respective online app stores that is independent of curation, that is, you pay to be on the store, whether the curation is less, such as the Android MarketPlace, or more in the case of the App Store.  So, since the commission is independent of the curation, neither Apple’s curation or anyone else’s is a toll both.  And by accepting my proposal, Apple, if it so chose, could place that task of curation with respect to controversial speech into the hands of an independent advisory committee, at least where it chose to follow its Committee’s opinion.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo: Curation of a store is fine. Curation of all software widely available for the platform is the problem. I’ll even concede that maybe Apple had to do this to build an ecosystem, just as Mussolini did keep his trains running on time. But being the curator for the platform and not just the store is the source of these troubles.

Nemo

So, we agree that all stores curate to some extent.  Your objection then is to Apple’s App Store being the only store for its iOS devices.  Well, Apple has stated some of its reasons for that:  (1) Apple wants to ensure that apps provide a consistent and high quality user’s experience by, among other things, having both control over the apps and app store; Apple wants to control apps and its App Store, so that it has maximum freedom in designing its iOS; Apple wants to have prophylactic security model to better protect its customers and limit malware on iOS devices; Apple must be able to protect the copyrighted material from its iTunes store; and of course, Apple want to get paid for creating, maintaining, and managing the best mobile ecosystem on the planet.  Now, you may think that Apple’s justifications for preventing side-loading don’t have sufficient merit for prohibiting side-loading, but Apple’s has made that decision and isn’t likely to reverse itself, so that is a done deal.

John and I have moved on from the decided issue of no side-loading and are trying to deal with the problem of fairly deciding whether a controversial app gets to be on the App Store.  Though we differ on some important details, John and I both agree that Apple could benefit from wise counsel, for its present efforts are neither consistent or fair and have offended at least as many people as they have pleased.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, when you buy into the justifications (which are bullshit), you buy into the excesses (which you dislike). As an observer of humans, I can promise you that if Apple execs have done this twice, the last thing they are looking for is some mechanism such as what you and John have proposed to keep themselves from doing it again. I can also promise you that another app will come along that Apple will banish that will (rightly) get you on your civility high horse. It’s unavoidable. I don’t think either you or John seriously think Apple will follow either form of your suggestions. I think you’re trying to give them a way out, even if just a theoretical one put to paper. I think it takes the sting out of knowing this will continue to happen so long as Apple controls what’s on the platform, not just what’s in its store. I know you get the point. One day, you’ll feel free to acknowledge it without feeling like your Apple cred is at risk grin.

Windsor Smith

Now, you may think that Apple?s justifications for preventing side-loading don?t have sufficient merit for prohibiting side-loading, but Apple?s has made that decision and isn?t likely to reverse itself, so that is a done deal.

Nemo, what makes you so sure Apple won’t reverse itself on “side-loading”? It already has on other issues—including the use of third-party tools for developing iOS apps (Apple loosens its chokehold on app development) which Jobs had previously seemed very vehement about.

Even with competing IOS app stores, Apple could still use contractual and technical means to meet most of the goals you listed—consistent and high-quality user experience, prophylactic security model, etc. It just wouldn’t be able to control the customer experience provided at non-Apple app stores—which isn’t any different from the situation it currently embraces in the brick-and-mortar domain with Best Buy and other authorized Apple resellers.

Nemo

Dear Mr. Smith:  I can’t be certain about anything, but for the reason that I stated, supra, I think it highly unlikely that Apple will change its position to permit side-loading.  One thing that give me confidence is that, notwithstanding Apple reverser its policy on cross compilers and tools built on proprietary standards, Apple has in fact controlled matter so that Flash-based tools and tools based on proprietary standards are all but banished from the App Store, at least if you want to make a competitive app and an app that will get through Apple’s approval process.

And no it probably wouldn’t be possible to use contractual and technical means that would pass antitrust scrutiny to control on third-party app stores user experience, protect copyrighted works, avoid burdening Apple’s iOS developers with supporting those third-party app store and the apps in them, provide an effective prophylactic security model, and, of course, get paid for providing the iOS ecosystem.

Google is about to get a nasty shock from Amazon’s app store for Android.  Already Angry Birds is moving from the MarketPlace to Amazon.  Amazon will cut deeply into Google’s ability to acquire users’ personal info and, therefore, cut deeply into Google’s ability profit from Android, and greatly diminish Google’s ability to control the Android platform.  But Apple’s iOS is Apple’s property, while Android is either open source, quasi-open source, or, depending on the outcome of the more than 37 infringement suits filed against Android, is someone else’s property that Google wrongfully expropriated.  See what luck Google has trying to control Amazon’s Android app store by contractual and technical means. 

iOS is Apple’s property, and Apple won’t open the door to it for the reasons, supra, a door that, once open, Apple might find it impossible to close.

John’s proposal and my modification of it are long shots, but my proposal has some real benefits for Apple with the only downside being that Jobs or some other Apple executive might not get to enforce his opinions, beliefs, and/or prejudices in deciding what will appear in the App Store.

Nemo

Bosco:  If Android is so open and permits side-loading, why does Amazon have to defeat Android’s default settings to enable side-loading from its app store?  See http://blogs.yankeegroup.com/2011/03/29/amazon-appstore-neuters-droid-security/

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo: How is that any less secure than your Mac? The blog fails to mention that when an app is side-loaded on an Android device, the same permissions are presented to the user as when the user buys from the Android Marketplace. So, in actuality, side loading on an Android device is more secure than installing software on your Mac.

Nemo

Bosco:  Perhaps, you didn’t carefully read the article, or you missed my point.  My point is that Google’s default setting for Android don’t permit side-loading, unless you defeat Android’s default setting to permit indiscriminate side-loading from anywhere, which means that Google’s intent is to block side-loading, even though a savvy user can defeat that by simply changing Android’s default settings.  But notwithstanding that, Google’s intent to frustrate side-loading is clear.   

And while you may not think that the only way to permit side-loading from a particular third-party app store is to permit it from anywhere is a major security flaw, I doubt that you will find any major security expert, who is not paid by Google, to agree with you.

Now, we are pulling back the covers on Google:  No releasing the source code for Honeycomb; riding roughshod over the GPL by coping GPLed code with out complying with GPL requirement to disclose and publish the source code for the parts of Android derived from GPLed code; threatening developer who wanted to customize the proprietary parts of the Android stack with cease and desist letters and a lawsuit.  And, of course, Google’s contractual and licensing restrictions that prevent use of Google’s trademarks, access to the MarketPlace, and timely access to Android update, unless you use Google’s apps and pass Google’s test for conformity to orthodox code.  And last but not least:  No outside developer is allowed to participate in the development of Android’s code. 

If that is what you call open, then the iOS is open too.

John, please forgive the off topic posts.

Windsor Smith

Nemo, what makes you so sure Apple won?t reverse itself on ?side-loading??

Sorry, when I wrote that, I thought I knew what “side-loading” meant (based on the context in which it appeared in earlier posts), but then I checked its Wikipedia entry and now I’m not so sure.

Anyway, just to be clear: What I’m proposing is that Apple allow other online stores to sell apps for iOS devices. Apple would still check all apps for conformance to its technical guidelines (including the guidelines intended to thwart malware), and the apps that pass would be made available for sale by any authorized app store. Apple would then choose which of those conforming apps it sells in its own iTunes App Store, based on whatever additional criteria it decides to apply (e.g. does not offend larger numbers of people, etc.).

Under its iOS Developer Enterprise Program, Apple already allows a company to maintain its own “enterprise app store” for distributing internally-developed apps within that company (see Emerging Tech: Alternatives to Apple App Store, For Enterprises), using third-party cataloging and deployment software (such as EASE from Apperian). For Apple, third-party app stores which sell apps to consumers would seem to be just a few short steps away from these existing enterprise app stores.

And no it probably wouldn?t be possible to use contractual and technical means that would pass antitrust scrutiny to control on third-party app stores user experience, protect copyrighted works, avoid burdening Apple?s iOS developers with supporting those third-party app store and the apps in them, provide an effective prophylactic security model, and, of course, get paid for providing the iOS ecosystem.

Nemo: What antitrust issues would Apple encounter? And how would iOS developers be additionally burdened?

One thing that give me confidence is that, notwithstanding Apple reverser its policy on cross compilers and tools built on proprietary standards, Apple has in fact controlled matter so that Flash-based tools and tools based on proprietary standards are all but banished from the App Store, at least if you want to make a competitive app and an app that will get through Apple?s approval process.

Nemo: I hadn’t heard anything about that. Can you go into more detail about how Apple has controlled the matter? Or maybe point us to an article about it? (I thought Adobe was proceeding with development of its Flash-to-iOS “Packager” tool; and Monotouch lists dozens of approved apps that use its development tools).

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

You know Nemo, no less than Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman have said that this so-called GPL problem is a non-issue. And the article you point to fails to take into account the practical mechanisms of security on the platform. If, for example, Google thinks that Amazon was out of line with the “don’t worry, it’s Amazon” line, all Google has to do is say so. Clearly, people would be receptive to that and not as skeptical because Google runs Android Marketplace. “Don’t worry, it’s security”, right? But they don’t, and their silence speaks volumes. Because it’s just as secure. The user has to approve the permissions of any side loaded app, just as the user must do for any app downloaded from Marketplace. That is one piece of the security picture on Android.

Windsor: In early September, the EU regulators slapped Apple upside the head, resulting in Apple permitting 3rd party tools for development, so long as apps don’t run scripts downloaded from the Internet. Developers also can’t use shared libraries. So the Flash experience on iOS is slightly crippled, but workable for many (maybe even most) Flash apps.

Nemo, back on topic. Here’s the narrative. Apple leverages its position as the sole decider of apps on iOS platform to shut out apps which conflict with Apple’s political values. Many Apple fans are disgusted, so they rally to help Apple by suggesting a system that would prevent Apple from shutting out such apps which conflict with Apple’s political values. Apple execs realize that they need a balance against their politically correct ways. They set up two review boards, a volunteer board headed by John, and a paid board headed by Nemo. All controversy comes to an end because everybody knows that review boards solve the problem of competing constituencies having opposite goals on a binary decision.

Nemo, you claim that Google isn’t any better, but in fact, they have been. Them telling for Dem Senators to pound sand over very legal DUI checkpoint apps is instructive. RIM turtled, and it’s not clear what Apple has done yet.

Windsor Smith

In early September, the EU regulators slapped Apple upside the head, resulting in Apple permitting 3rd party tools for development, so long as apps don?t run scripts downloaded from the Internet.

Yeah, I’d forgotten about that regulatory angle until rather late in my research last night. When Apple made the change last year it claimed

We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license… (Statement by Apple on App Store Review Guidelines)

which might have a grain of truth, but the abruptness of Apple’s turnabout makes me think that regulatory pressure was a bigger factor. I wish I could come up with a way to get regulators interested in Apple’s curation policies.

Apple leverages its position as the sole decider of apps on iOS platform to shut out apps which conflict with Apple?s political values.

I’d argue that Apple’s motivation is more along the lines of Disneyfication (”So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.”) rather than political correctness, but either way the result is similar, and it bugs me too.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Disneyfication is part of it. It’s also turned out to be a good business model for Apple over the past few years. It doesn’t mean it’s a good situation for all of Apple’s developers or all of Apple’s customers. The piece that is clearly missing from John’s and Nemo’s proposals is incentive.

I don’t think that Apple fans have to boycott Apple to provide incentive. All they really need to do is open themselves to the idea of buying non-Apple products that meet their needs. You don’t have to withhold the “like”, but withhold the “unconditional love” until Apple behaves better, or until Steve Jobs leaves, which will coincidentally be about the same day grin.

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