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January 24, 2014

Religious debates and the App Store, Part I

In a career packed with sound bites, the late Steve Jobs offered one of his best when describing his vision for a family-friendly Apple App Store.

"We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone," he famously responded, in an email to a customer. "Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone."

This stance was clear, but hard to apply in the flood of information and images on the World Wide Web. After all, many consumers are very easy to offend, when hot buttons get pushed. What about that Playboy app, which was accepted?

In the introduction to the App Store guidelines, which many observers believed were written by Jobs, it's clear where Apple executives expected to encounter trouble -- sex and religion.

"If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app," stated this 2010 document. "We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it.'"

Sex is sex, but many consumers are just as offended by religious views they consider dangerous or judgmental. Mix sex and religion and the Apple team really gets nervous.

Brian Pellot, a London-based reporter on religion-liberty issues, recently dug into App Store history and produced a list of symbolic faith-based products rejected by Apple.

"I basically just searched around until I came up with five that were somewhat relevant to religion," he said, via email. "I think a lot of these were flagged because of perceived or feared offense. Not so much because they had to do with religion but because Apple doesn't want to upset users."

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