Earlier in the year, I wrote an op-ed piece asking the question if Apple was the new evil empire. As the year progressed, my general feelings of crumminess towards Apple turned into full on hate. Let’s first discuss some of the criticisms people have had about Apple.
Apple has been accused of stifling competition. Most famously, they attempted to ban iOS app conversion tools, such as one from Adobe. Such conversion tools would allow developers to program in an alternate programming language (such as Flash) instead of the programming languages Apple wishes developers to use. Adobe filed a complaint and Apple was forced to change their stance as the FTC began to investigate, however Apple still does not allow converted apps to download data. They have also banned a number of third party Ad networks off the iOS platform, as they wish to push their iAd platform. Apple has also been known to reject a large number of apps onto their App store that competed against other Apple products, such as e-mail clients and music software.
Apple has famously rejected a large number of apps based on their content, such as apps related to political candidates, op-ed cartoonists (including a Pulitzer Price winner), musicians, and various websites. Many of these rejections are centered around “objectionable” or “offensive” content, or content deemed to ridicule public figures. Even the Google Voice app was rejected, but eventually accepted after a year of complaints and legal action. The criticism against Apple has been predominantly centered on their hypocritical App acceptance or rejection policies. For example, while many apps have been rejected for sexual offensive content, such as apps with women in bikinis or scantily clad outfits, Apple has accepted a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and Playboy app into the App store. A Nine Inch Nails app was also famously rejected because it contained offensive lyrics, despite the fact the uncensored songs by Nine Inch Nails were sold in the iTunes store. While some of the rejected apps listed above eventually got into the App store, people are concerned that only the most famous rejections are reconsidered, many are never heard of in the public eye.
So why the problem?
The predominant concern I have is how Apple has established a new standard of control that most consumers accept, despite not knowing the issues surrounding it. Apple continually and regularly markets that their products are safe, secure, and without problems. They market that their design from the hardware, software, and app store control is what allows consumers to have this high quality and security. During a press conference earlier this year, Apple reiterated their stance that Apps that are rejected are predominantly on quality concerns, not mentioning any of the issues reflected above.
As Tim Wu stated in a recent article, when Apple was a smaller company, this wasn’t a problem. However, as Apple nears becoming the largest market-cap company in the United States, the amount of control they have is a growing concern. Many smartphone customers use Apps as their primary mechanism to access websites, access content, etc. Apple’s control over the App Store now has the opportunity to have larger influence on our society, such as what can and cannot be accessed. For example, with their rejection of a politician’s congressional campaign app, is Apple trying to push some political candidates over others? By rejecting apps for certain websites, are they trying to sway which sites are allowed to exist and not exist?
Many rebuttals I’ve read have centered on an argument that, “If you don’t like Apple’s closed model, you can buy a different product like Android that is more open.” While this is true, the issue is that most consumers don’t know the issues described above. They continue to believe that the apps rejected by Apple are centered on quality or security concerns, and nothing else.
What should be done?
At present, I’m not calling for legal action, however I feel it’s important to make people are aware of this issue (which is a partial reason I’m writing this). In addition, we should track what Apple is doing or not doing on their App store more vigilantly. As an example, Google and their search engine have similar opportunity to affect our society. Google could determine what websites are searchable or not searchable, greatly affecting what information can be read or accessed by users. Watch groups and even government entities are keeping watch on Google to ensure that they do not overstep boundaries. We should be keeping a similar watch on Apple, and if they begin to have too much of an affect, legal pressure or action may be necessary.
Is Apple the New Evil Empire?
Apple vs. Google: The Next Great Tech War
Facebook vs Google: The Upcoming Battles
Devindra Hardawar, “Apple loses game of chicken, allows Flash and other conversion tools for iOS apps”, VentureBeat
Tim Wu, “How Apple’s Closed Ways Could Land It Into Antitrust Trouble”, Techcrunch