Friday Slide: Apple Thinks of the Children for All the Wrong Reasons

By now, you’ve heard all about how Apple mobilized their Protect The Childrenâ„¢ SWAT team last week, which pulled over 5,000 ‘sexy’ apps from the App store. Now we can all bunk down peacefully tonight, knowing our most precious natural resource (even more precious than coal!) is safe.

Or is it?

When the inevitable uproar over the removed Apps broke on the Internet, Apple executive Phil Schiller told The New York Times that the removed apps were unsuitable for family viewing, and that the needs of kids and parents had to come first (‘first’ ahead of whom isn’t too clear. Independent developers? Hipsters?).

Problem is, Apple’s being pretty inconsistent about deciding what kind of material will damage kids’ brains. Seems that games and apps featuring images of women in bikinis or even tight suits are a no-no, unless they’re brought out by big name studios and trademarks like Rockstar and Playboy.

Analysts believe Apple is looking to polish up its image before the launch of the iPad. Obviously, if parents believe that their kids can get their hands on all manner of App Store smut, that’s a major black mark against buying an iPad for schoolwork versus just spending a lot less money on a netbook, a device parents have some familiarity with, and therefore can control (or believe they can).

The comparison between Apple and Nintendo has been drawn more than once, and here it comes again: this incident reminds me very strongly of the censorship policies Nintendo of America foisted on translators in the early ’90s. The company had come under fire from parents who blamed Nintendo games on everything from poor grades to creeping obesity. Nintendo thought cracking down on content would satisfy parent groups (hint: it didn’t), and restricted all traces of sex and bloody violence from its translated games.

But even though Apple’s intentions are similar to Nintendo’s, its execution is sloppy and transparently biased. Nintendo eased its restrictions dramatically once the ESRB started monitoring and rating games. The App store likewise rates and restricts games according to age, but apparently that doesn’t mean much.

Also, whatever you thought of Nintendo’s censorship policies back in the day, at least they applied to all Super Nintendo games. Poison from ‘Final Fight’ wasn’t allowed to be a transvestite anymore, but neither was the original ‘Mortal Kombat’ allowed to have buckets of blood splattering everywhere.

Apple has pulled 5,000 sexy apps, or about 3% of what’s available on the App store. One pulled app is Wobble iBoobs, which jiggles parts of a bikini-wearing model if you shake her up. Obviously, not the most intelligent app ever programmed. But developer Jon Atherton understandably wanted to know why his content was targeted specifically, and what Apple deemed ‘inappropriate’ under its new content guidelines.

Apple told Atherton that images of women in bikinis are totally out, a disturbing development that’s since been backed up by Gerrard Dennis, the UK developer behind the Simply Beach app.

Apple’s sudden push for purity is disturbing for a number of reasons. First: No women in bikinis? Seriously? I’m assuming parents who are disturbed by the notion of a woman showing her legs and belly also won’t let their kids anywhere near the YMCA.

Second, how come I entered the word ‘kill’ on the App Store and pulled up any number of games about killing this and stabbing that? Sure, they’re all done in a cartoony self-parodying style: there’s no iSnuff available for download. But once again we have to drudge up the old question about why graphic violence is A-OK in American society, while uncovered women are an absolute horror.

There’s also the small matter of consistency, something Apple doesn’t seem to feel is important. Wobble iBoobs is gone, but the Playboy app and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are still available and burning into the hearts and minds of vulnerable young children everywhere. Sports Illustrated apps survived the purge, too. What’s with the double standard?

‘The difference,’ Phil Schiller told the New York Times, ‘is [Sports Illustrated] is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format.’ In other words, the bikini babes from Playboy and Sports Illustrated are more suitable for family viewing than anything offered by indie developers. I’d like the name of the child psychologist Apple contacted for this issue. I need to warn him or her that scarfing down a whole box of Lucky Charms just to get to the Psychology PhD at the bottom is a worse idea than sticking termites in your ears.

Another point about Nintendo versus Apple is that Nintendo is still considered a family-friendly company today, and its reputation with parents is pretty solid even though developers are allowed to create M-rated games for the Wii and the Nintendo DS. Both systems definitely have a large amount of Teen-rated games, as well as games rated E10+ (‘Everyone 10 and Up’). A woman in a bikini enjoying a day at the beach is E10+ content at the very worst. An app featuring a woman’s jiggly breasts probably wouldn’t push past a Teen rating.

By all means, parents should pay attention to age ratings on videogames and apps. And Apple should do what it can to promote those ratings and educate parents about what kind of content falls under each one. A mutually beneficial relationship between hardware developers and parents is always preferable to frenzied squawking about the evils of half-naked girls, followed by a half-baked content purge that puts up a false front at the cost of crippling small developers with unrealistic policies.

(Sources: The Daily Mail, ChiliFresh)