Danish Newspaper Protest Apple App Store Censorship

Ekstra Bladet, a newspaper in Denmark, has had it up to here with Apple’s App Store policies, and the publication has published a series of protest articles on the subject, including the political cartoon below. According to the newspaper, Apple rejected its iPhone and iPad apps because of a nude photo feature, even for the Danish-specific version of the App Store.

In an editorial titled “Double standards in Apple’s Disneyland,” Heine Jørgensen wrote for the newspaper (from a Google translation, and mind the mild profanity), “Steve Jobs, who privately is Disney’s largest shareholder, is the closest you get to a god in the engineering world. And just like God, he tries to restrict anything that resembles criticism or incorrect content in the apparatus [from which] he earns billions of dollars. So long as the customers just uncritically pays shit Apple at rest.”

(There’s much more below the image, if you’ll pardon the opportunity for pun).

Ekstra Bladet Political Cartoon

Ekstra Bladet Protest Political Cartoon

The Heart of the Matter

At issue, according to the newspaper, is Ekstra Bladet’s Page 9 Girl, a nudie photo feature the company has been publishing since 1976. EB said that Apple refused to allow its newspaper app unless the company removed the Page 9 Girl, and EB refused, leading to the company using its editorial pages to attack Apple for its decision, and accuse it of using double standards.

In another piece titled, “We do not need an American nanny,” Mr. Jørgensen wrote, “Page 9-girl is not an American or a British pinup model that peeks out from behind a pound of makeup. She is the neighbor’s beautiful daughter. An innocent Danish institution on par with The Little Mermaid. No Dane has ever gotten the strange idea that Page 9-girl would be banned. But now, narrow-minded, American tasters from computer giant Apple tittet with through the keyhole, and decided that the sweet Danish girl is offensive - for the Danes in Denmark.”

The source of the double standard complaint is The Sun, the English tabloid that features the Page 3 Girl (Warning: Following the link and clicking on the links there will result in porn) a long running nudie pic feature at the News Corp publication. EB argued that The Sun for iPad is available in the App Store, and that Apple is being hypocritical by not allowing EB’s iPad or iPhone apps.

From the same Google translation of the Disneyland editorial (with more of that lack of American prudishness, so continue to read with care), “In England published The Sun - which is quite similar to Ekstra Bladet - each day at Apple with a girl like ours. Only difference is that she is on page 3 - and has bigger tits!”

The Sun’s Web app (the newspaper presented for mobile device consumption) is also available for iPhone, and is promoted on Apple’s own Web site, though it is specifically lacking the Page 3 feature — you have to visit the non mobile version with the link above to access the girlie pics, or you could just go straight to Page3.com, News Corp’s dedicated commercial Web site for its feature, a site not promoted by Apple but easily accessible on the iPhone or iPad.

To Pay or Not to Pay

The difference here is likely to be the pay/free issue. PaidContent reported earlier this year that News Corp was able to get the app approved because it’s a paid app that requires users to sign off on being 17 or older before it can be downloaded — The Sun’s iPhone Web app is currently freely accessible through a browser on your iPhone.

That could be at the heart of what EB characterizes as Apple’s double standards, but as with the controversy over the anti-gay and anti-abortion app The Manhattan Declaration, Apple is putting itself in the role of arbiter for societal standards of decency.

In trying to protect the Walled Garden, Apple will of necessity offend someone, often. The more popular the iOS platform becomes, the more opportunity Apple has to offend ever larger groups of someones.

The Manhattan Declaration controversy is an almost uniquely American issue, however, whereas EB’s Page 9 Girl (or The Sun’s Page 3 Girl, for that matter) are issues specific to another country’s culture. Apple treads even trickier ground by trying to enforce its own definition of what porn is in cultures where nudity is viewed differently, in countries where EB and The Sun are merely one of the mainstream dailies available on the street (even if they are tabloids).

Porn Watchdog

Should Apple be the anti-porn watchdog on iOS devices in every country where it maintains an App Store? That’s a subjective question, so we’ll counter our own question with a different one: Can Apple be the anti-porn watchdog in every country where it maintains an App Store?

In addition to the risk of miffing off customers and potential customers put off by what many will see as American prudishness or perhaps ham fisted corporate censorship, the company is likely to find itself running afoul of various and sundry government watchdog agencies, especially in Europe.

The reality is that this is bound to be the case with the Walled Garden approach to the App Store. By ensuring that apps run well, are not malicious, and are of high quality, Apple must approve each app. By approving every app, the company is effectively responsible for the content of the app, which Apple seems to have taken to heart.

And that is what leads to these countless controversies. In trying to protect the Walled Garden, Apple will of necessity offend someone, often. The more popular the iOS platform becomes, the more opportunity Apple has to offend ever larger groups of someones.

The company has so far shown at least some degree of flexibility on these policies, and has reversed plenty of App Store approvals or rejections in the face of common sense or common protest (or sometimes just protest). Apple most recently published loose guidelines for developers so that they can have a better understanding of what the App Store is looking for, an uncommon bit of semi-openness for the company.

Those guidelines make the most sense for the American App Store, where, for instance, the decision to keep porn off the App Store isn’t likely to raise many eyebrows at all. They do not, however, do a thing to address whether Apple should try to export its social mores to other markets, especially when it comes to prohibiting mainstream newspapers on foreign shores from having apps.

In The States, Apple is free to allow or disallow what it wants. No one is forced to buy an iPhone, after all, and if they don’t like Apple’s level of control, consumers are free to go elsewhere. In Europe, however, Apple’s rights as a corporation are not as clear as they are in this country, and these kinds of decisions by the Cupertino company are quite likely to eventually lead to all manner of investigations and government prodding.

Thanks to Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune for the heads up on this issue.