Apple’s Phil Schiller Explains Sex-related App Store Purging

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Apple recently began removing iPhone and iPod touch apps from its App Store that offered sexually suggestive content without any warning or explanation. Now Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, is saying customer complaints were behind the move.

"We were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see," Mr. Schiller told the New York Times.

Apparently the number of apps "containing very objectionable content" was on the rise, and a vocal group of App Store shoppers wasn't happy with what they were seeing.

So far, apps that show women in bikinis or underwear, or apps that let users undress women have been removed from the App Store, but not every app that fits in that category. Sports Illustrated, for example, offers an app showing women in bikinis, and Playboy offers an app that shows women in lingerie. Both are still available at the App Store.

"The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format," Mr. Schiller said.

That explanation, however, may not be enough to appease developers with apps that have been pulled from the App Store. All 50 apps from On the Go Girls have been pulled, and like other companies in the same position, that means lost revenue.

"It's very hard to go from making a good living to zero. This goes farther than sexy content," On the Go Girls co-president, Fred Clarke, said. "For developers, how do you know you aren't going to invest thousands into a business only to find out one day you've been cut off?"

While developers might feel jilted by Apple, Mr. Schiller says the company is interested in them -- at least to a degree. "We obviously care about developers, but in the end have to put the needs of the kids and parents first," he said.

Despite past complaints that Apple's guidelines for iPhone and iPod touch app developers are murky, this new batch of bumped apps seems to show that little has changed. In this case, developers followed Apple's rules and passed the company's screening process, and ultimately saw their apps pulled without any warning.

In the end it appears that Apple is looking out for itself -- potentially at the expense of the developers that write apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. "Apple has a brand to maintain," commented Piper Jaffray tech analyst Gene Munster. "And the bottom line is they want that image to be squeaky clean."

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26 Comments Leave Your Own

Khaled

Apple should just introduce an R rated section that is totally isolated from the rest of the App Store.

Isn’t the music and movie sections of iTunes loaded with “sexual” content?

Jeff Gamet

I understand Apple’s desire to keep customers happy and to keep potentially objectionable content out of reach for kids, but axing a whole group of apps without warning the developers seems a bit short sighted to me. People do make a living off of selling content through the App Store, and it’s probably pretty difficult for developers to feel confident now that their already approved apps are safe from removal. I like Khaled’s idea of including a segregated App Store section for adult-themed apps.

dlstarr7

Someone needs to get Harry Flint on this.

daemon

“The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format,” Mr. Schiller said.

Bikini clad girls are bad unless you’re an old print medium? I’m calling BS.

vasic

I’m not sure who’s Harry Flint, but his name sounds awfully similar to Larry Flynt’s…

Lee Dronick

Someone needs to get Harry Flint on this.

Larry Flint?

Lee Dronick

Apple should just introduce an R rated section that is totally isolated from the rest of the App Store.

There is already parental controls in iTunes, but yes make “Adult” an app category.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Taking Phil “the Schiller” Schiller at his word, there have been a lot of complaints from parents and presumably Taliban members as well. The question is whether after this change, which has obviously cut a lot of users off if it’s cut into developer revenues as much as claimed, those affected users will complain. I have already submitted a complaint through their feedback system.

Next, I’m going to try an Apple-free month. I did this a year ago when the South Park app was rejected. It was tough then, mostly because of music and TV shows. Right now, I’m only following Caprica, but I figure I can buy the episodes later on another service perhaps. Music I can buy from Amazon using the Macintouch links because Ric is one of the good guys (Bryan, you could do those here, and I’d use them instead). Apps are going to be tough, because I like trying apps. But I’ve gone four days already. I suppose I could allow myself free apps because they just cost Apple the bandwidth, however miniscule. Content will probably add up to $100 or so through the end of March. If 1 million people did the same, we’d make a dent!

But so far as hardware goes, Apple has lost a customer, and the chance of ever regaining me is very low. I spent $500 on an ASUS t91MT multi-touch tablet netbook last week. Beautiful device. Windows 7 is more than tolerable. Even if I could Hackintosh it, I wouldn’t bother for the extra 10% that Mac OS X might give me. Apple doesn’t want to compete there at all. I needed an additional wireless access point this week too. I picked up a LinkSys on Amazon instead of an Airport Express. Saved $60 too.

And I’ve started apologizing to my friends for ever pushing them toward anything Apple. If they bought it or stole it from my cast-off collection, it’s fine to use—it’s sunk cost with remaining service life. But I know I can point them to non-Apple products that will serve them better for less money in the future. Don’t get me wrong. Apple products are, and will remain, “nice”. It’s just that with a little research that I am more than happy to do for myself and a lot of other people, you can find something from someone else that is nice enough and significantly less expensive.

Yours truly,

Ch? Bosco

P.S. AAPL down more than $2 as this story goes mainstream. Perhaps just a temporary blip, but one that makes this revolutionary a little happier today.

ibuck

So violent, sociopathic games are ok in the app store, but bikinis are not? Many would claim that the former was more abhorrent than the latter. So, how is it that there are not special sections of the app store, one for Adult content (bikinis, etc) and another for Violence? Surely Apple could devise a way to restrict entry to those sections of the store.

Lancashire-Witch

I haven’t seen any bikini clad girls in the App store.  I guess that’s because I haven’t looked for them.

Lee Dronick

I haven?t seen any bikini clad girls in the App store.? I guess that?s because I haven?t looked for them.

Have you found the guys wearing speedos? smile

webjprgm

I don’t have much sympathy for people peddling “adult content”.  Most websites and public forums have some “decency” clause that allows blocking things that are “objectionable”, which is also the case with Apple’s well-discussed developer agreement.  So by selling that stuff in the first place you’re on thin ice.

Of course I don’t know if by girls in bikinis they meant a “Dinner Dash” game with a beach setting or photographs with suggestive poses, but I suspect they meant the latter.

The only thing objectionable in Apple’s actions is the lack of warning, which makes everyone nervous that any random app could be pulled for any random reason. In this case, Apple made a decision to take down content, changing their mind, but they can do that! So what should they have done, give everyone a month’s notice before shutting it down? It still ends up cutting off some developers.

If people react enough they could change their minds again and create an adult section.  Again, Apple is entitled to do that.

Final lesson: if you’re trying to sell something that someone might find “objectionable”, whether it be adult content or slight hints about jail breaking, you have to realize that you are not on stable footing and your business plans include a risk.

dhp

On the Roku digital video player “Channel Store” no porn channels are allowed. However, developers can make “private” channels, which are accessible through the Roku device with Roku’s consent, but require the user to follow a URL provided by the content-owner and enter a special code for access. (You do this one time, then the channel is installed on your box until you delete it.) Perhaps a model like that could work for Apple?

vasic

Webjprgm:

While in principle your statement sounds fine, it isn’t realistic in the real world. Standards of decency (i.e. what’s “objectionable”) are quite elastic. In may jurisdictions around the world (outside US), neither the law, nor the common social standards prevent women from wearing bottom-only attire in places where this is acceptable for men (beach, pool, park). A woman dressed in a bikini is also perfectly acceptable in vast majority of local jurisdictions even in the US. Yet, Apple pulled a app from a store that sells swimwear. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated (swimsuit edition) remains available.

Actually, I don’t think this double standard even matters; there was NO REASON to remove ANY of these applications, since there is NO WAY to clearly and consistently define this standard, and lowest common denominator simply doesn’t work (otherwise, nothing would be acceptable, as it would be objectionable to at least some social group).

Apple isn’t just another retailer like Wal-mart or Amazon. For iPhone/iPod/iPad apps, they are the monopoly, therefore, the censor. While Wal-mart can choose not to sell Playboy DVDs (consumers can buy them elsewhere), where can an iPhone user buy/get an app for Simply Beach (an online retailer of beachware for men and women from UK)?

Lancashire-Witch

Have you found the guys wearing speedos

Nope - can’t find those guys. But thanks for the tip Sir Harry.  I thought “Couch Tarts” sounded promising but it turned out to be an App about a San Jose hockey team :-(

The App approval process has always been inconsistent, slow, unhelpful and unclear. Ted Landau has highlighted the problems more than once.  Now it’s turning into a disaster with worldwide repercussions.  I guess SJ will want answers before too long.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I guess SJ will want answers before too long.

FTW!!! Funniest comment of the day! Nothing this stupid happens without Steve Jobs being all in.

Lee Dronick

But thanks for the tip Sir Harry.? I thought ?Couch Tarts? sounded promising but it turned out to be an App about a San Jose hockey team

There is a Lounge Lizard app smile

The App approval process has always been inconsistent, slow, unhelpful and unclear. Ted Landau has highlighted the problems more than once.? Now it?s turning into a disaster with worldwide repercussions.? I guess SJ will want answers before too long.

The Developer’s Conference is coming up, I wonder if some of them will give the Apple reps an ear full.

Lancashire-Witch

Funniest comment of the day!

Yes I’m quite pleased with that one. Double-edged I thought.

vpndev

This whole scenario will become *very* volatile once newspapers, magazines and books start coming for iPad. The censorship issue will become quite nasty, and Apple does not (should not) want to be in the middle of it.

Apple would do well to license the App Store to entities that want to publish content, as opposed to “apps”. It’s true that there is some overlap but that’s an issue that can be solved. Apple should deal only with apps and leave content, and the various issues that come with it, to the content creators.

Lee Dronick

This whole scenario will become *very* volatile once newspapers, magazines and books start coming for iPad. The censorship issue will become quite nasty, and Apple does not (should not) want to be in the middle of it.

Apple already allows “adult” audiobooks and podcasts in the iTunes Store. Do a search using the words erotica or sex

vpndev

Apple already allows ?adult? audiobooks and podcasts in the iTunes Store. Do a search using the words erotica or sex

True, but I’m thinking about things like outspoken political views and the like. Apple needs to be more like an ISP and less like a content provider. We don’t want pressures for censorship

Lee Dronick

True, but I?m thinking about things like outspoken political views and the like. Apple needs to be more like an ISP and less like a content provider. We don?t want pressures for censorship

I concur.

stens

“Che” Bosco?

Not sure why you picked “Che”, since by “revolutionary” you apparently meant “murdering, torturing thug”. I’d have picked a less offensive metaphor…perhaps Ghandi.

Lee Dronick

Not sure why you picked ?Che?, since by ?revolutionary? you apparently meant ?murdering, torturing thug?. I?d have picked a less offensive metaphor?perhaps Ghandi

How about Don Bosco, also known as Saint Bosco? Furthermore Saint Bosco was about “sales,” and we know that our Bosco is an entrepreneur I made him an app he couldn’t refuse.

stens

I don’t mean to make any ad hominem attacks. I do think this app store issue should have been handled differently.

I was just actually offended. I’ve been known to ask people at malls carrying “Che” bags and wearing the shirts whether they support torture, and, if not, why they display the name of someone who, according to his colleagues, tortured with gusto. Well, I guess I won’t see any more of “Che’s” comments.

OH NO….CENSORSHIP!!!! AAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Actually, Se?or Bosco is far more in agreement with Mr. stens than Mr. stens might realize, but Se?or Bosco’s proximity to Hollywood and penchant for irony drives him to temporarily adopt the aforementioned iconic revolutionary image for the time being.

For example, what better way to mock Steve Jobs and the whole Che meme than to print Che-styled T-shirts with Steve Jobs’ face and get a bunch of attendees at WWDC this year to wear them? Might happen. Anger is deep and far reaching.

(BTW, the video on that linked page was produced by a very good college buddy of mine who has gone one to do some really great things.)

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