It seemed like a simple enough idea for an iPhone app: Send users a pop-up notice whenever a flying robots kills someone in one of America’s many undeclared wars. But Apple keeps blocking the Drones+ program from its App Store — and therefore, from iPhones everywhere. The Cupertino company says the content is “objectionable and crude,” according to Apple’s latest rejection letter.
It’s the third time in a month that Apple has turned Drones+ away, says Josh Begley, the program’s New York-based developer. The company’s reasons for keeping the program out of the App Store keep shifting. First, Apple called the bare-bones application that aggregates news of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia “not useful.” Then there was an issue with hiding a corporate logo. And now, there’s this crude content problem.
Begley is confused. Drones+ doesn’t present grisly images of corpses left in the aftermath of the strikes. It just tells users when a strike has occurred, going off a publicly available database of strikes compiled by the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which compiles media accounts of the strikes.
FJP: A short demonstration of how the app works (both text alerts and a map-based visualization) can be seen on Vimeo.
In a recent article at the Columbia Journalism Review, Dan Gillmor reminds us how news organizations’ reliance on technology companies is increasingly problematic. For example, and sticking with Apple:
Governments and businesses are creating choke points inside that emerging ecosystem—points of control where interests unfriendly to journalism can create not just speed bumps on the fabled information highway, but outright barricades…
…Consider Apple. The news industry’s longstanding love affair with what has become the most valuable company on Earth expanded with the death of Steve Jobs. But Apple has a long history of controlling behavior. If you create a journalism app to be sold in the iPhone or iPad marketplace, you explicitly give Apple the right to decide whether your journalism content is acceptable under the company’s vague guidelines. Apple has used this to block material it considers improper, including (until the company came under fire for this) refusing for a time to allow Mark Fiore, who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his cartoons, to sell his own app. Given the dominance Apple now enjoys in the tablet market, journalists should have a Plan B. Apple’s paranoia (not too strong a word) and secretive ways have led it to attack journalism itself. In 2004 the company tried to force several websites to disclose their sources in their Apple coverage; the case was a direct challenge to fundamental business-journalism practices. (Note: I played a small role in that case, filing declarations on behalf of the websites that they were engaged in protected journalism.)
Read through to Gillmor’s article for more about how telecommunications providers, government, and entertainment and technology companies threaten journalism and innovation.