Apple May Allow Controversial Apps in App Store, Suggest Developers

Apple could introduce an "Explicit" category to its App Store, as suggested by developers who saw a tab for adult-themed apps appear briefly as a primary category in the iTunes Connect system. Whether Apple was testing code or yanked the category after news leaked remains to be seen. Apple's head of worldwide product marketing Philip Schiller indicated in an interview with The New York Times that the company had pulled controversial apps from the App Store in response to complaints.

Apple could be considering an "Explicit" category for apps sold in its popular App Store, according to online reports. Such a category could potentially allow the company to sidestep outside concerns over some of its third-party developers' products while continuing to collect revenue from those products.

According Cult of Mac, which quoted an unnamed developer in a Feb. 24 posting, Apple introduced "Explicit" as a possible primary category for application submissions in its iTunes Connect system. That category has since disappeared, raising questions about whether Apple was testing the interface or decided to pull back after the news leaked.

If Apple eventually introduces the category, odds are it will feature restrictions to prevent it from being accessed by minors. Various groups have raised concerns over adult-themed apps available for download in the App Store.

According to a Feb. 18 report on TechCrunch, developer Jon Atherton received an e-mail signed by "iPhone App Review" stating that one of his applications contained "content that we had originally believed to be suitable for distribution. However, we have recently received numerous complaints from our customers about this type of content, and have changed our guidelines appropriately."

The e-mail ended with: "We have decided to remove any overtly [adult] content from the App Store, which includes your application." Other reports from around that time indicated that Apple had indeed begun pulling any number of explicit apps from the storefront.

A clause in the iPhone SDK agreement states, "Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind."

Philip Schiller, Apple's head of worldwide product marketing, confirmed in a Feb. 22 article in The New York Times that "an increasing number of apps containing very questionable content" had been pulled from the App Store.

"It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable," the newspaper quotes Schiller as saying, "as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see." However, Apple also let apps for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and some established publications remain.

Apple has seen its App Store expand rapidly, with research firm IDC predicting the number of apps will grow to 300,000 by the end of 2011. With that growth, though, has come increased pressure on the company to regulate the contents of its digital store shelves.

In April 2009, Apple pulled a "Baby Shaker" app, which let users shake their iPhone in order to presumably kill a virtual infant, after protests from a number of groups. It followed that in May by yanking "Me So Holy," which had attracted protests for its perceived religious insensitivity.

In addition to pulling apps in response to protests, Apple also began taking down programs by developers who allegedly posted false positive reviews, as it did in December when it removed 1,000 applications by Molinker. Apple's stringency may increase as third-party developers begin creating programs for the company's upcoming iPad tablet PC, which utilizes the new iPhone SDK 3.2 beta.