Posted by: David Harley | February 21, 2010

Apple’s Blue Heaven

Thomas Claburn in “Information Week” reports that Apple “has been purging some adult-themed content from its iTunes App Store at the urging of both customers and developers.”

Apple is responding to complaints that “overtly sexual content” is too “in your face” for customers and is creating difficulties for developers of other types of app by submerging them in a sea of sweaty bodies, so that cooler content is less likely to stand up – errr, out. The presentation (icons, app names, screenshots) of such content is often so explicit, it’s argued, that schools and parents are unable to allow children to access the app store, despite parental controls. Apple’s content control/whitelisting policy is also criticised because of its inconsistency: while “blue” apps are removed when flagged, explicit musical and movie content remains available through iTunes.

Jiva Devoe argues that ‘Apple needs to create a “red light district” for apps, to keep other app store categories free of such apps.’ Gary Simmons, on the other hand, argues that if Apple isn’t willing to sell explicit content, it should “expand the distribution system” so that any legal content Apple doesn’t want to be associated with is available from other sources.

The ghettoization that Jiva seems to be proposing is consistent with Apple’s control/whitelisting model, though I wonder if it would maintain the same level of scrupulous inspection for content it doesn’t really want to be associated with. If those standards started to slip, I’d expect to see more attempts to slip in “bad” apps under cover of salaciousness: the red light districts of the Internet have always been a vector for malware and other badness. Indeed, purported porn has generally been the vector of choice for OS X malware, though I wouldn’t like to say whether this tells us more about cybercriminals or Mac users. 😉

On the other hand, while there are many who would like to see a “free market” for iPhone/iPod apps (probably everyone who’s ever jailbroken an iPhone, for a start), it would mean the end of Apple’s main defence against malicious apps unless it was administered by third parties on a similarly restrictive basis, and I can’t see how that would make much difference.

Claburn’s report has brought to my attention a resource I wasn’t aware of. While Apple’s bug reporting process involves a form that is only accessible to registered developers, Open Radar is an open bug database worth looking through if you’re interested in iPhone development generally, not least because some bug reports are cross referenced to the Apple database. And because not everything reported that way is a development bug…

Mac Virus
Small Blue-Green World
AVIEN Chief Operations Officer
ESET Research Fellow & Director of Malware Intelligence

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