Censorship and the App Store

It would seem as though I am the newest member of the elite club of those who have had their iOS app censored by Apple over political reasons. Furthermore, I stand as one of the few who will continue to stand for what I believe is right and accept the fact that it just won’t be in the App Store, rather than alter one of my core values in order to reach acceptance. Especially since, with the release of Xcode 7, you can just grab the source and build it yourself. Sure it’s a little harder, but it’s something anybody with a little patience should be able to do.

Oh, right. A little back story. GroG Platform is a social networking service built by me. Its goals are the ability to define exactly who sees what, and free API access for all (as a response to Twitter’s draconian stance on third-party clients). Another unique feature of it is that it has an anything-goes content policy. As long as content posted to it is legal, it’s allowed. Of course, when served with a legal demand to remove content, I will. I heard jail is a nasty place and I’d like to not find out. But, beyond that, I have no intention to ever remove content that a user believes to be objectionable. Opinions on what is and isn’t objectionable are extremely subjective, and that’s a slippery slope. Furthermore, I believe in the ideal that free speech exists to protect unpopular speech, not popular speech. Therefore, I believe it is wrong to silence an opinion just because it is unpopular, even if I vehemently disagree with such opinions. Anyway, Apple rejected my app because of this. Since GroGApp is the only thing I ever planned to publish to the App Store (aside from a tic tac toe game I published about four years ago), I can risk losing my dev program membership, which I fully realize is a possible consequence of publishing an app rejection letter. With that being said, following is the notice in full:

June 15, 2015 at 12:04 PM
From Apple
14.3 – Apps that display user generated content must include a method for filtering objectionable material, a mechanism for users to flag offensive content, and the ability to block abusive users from the service
14.3 Details

Your app enables the display of user-generated content but does not have the required precautions in place.

Specifically, the app needs an EULA for the user generated content.

Next Steps

It is necessary that you put all of the following precautions in place:

– Require that users agree to terms (EULA) and these terms must make it clear that there is no tolerance for objectionable content
– Use moderators to flag and remove inappropriate content and offensive users
– Users need a mechanism to flag objectionable content and report users generating this content
– Developer must act on objectionable content reports within 24 hours by removing the content and ejecting the user who provided the offending content
– Developer needs a method for ejecting users who violate the terms of the EULA

First of all, I’d like to point out that I’m not opposed to one of these conditions. Users should be able to block other users. The basic idea of GroG is that users should be in full control of what they do and don’t see. As a matter of fact, it’s something I’ll probably implement once I have the free time. However, that’s where I draw the line. It isn’t my place to censor content. Ever. Assuming the content in question is legal, I’ll give it a place to exist. Even reddit has fallen from this stance, as a large company with investors to appease. As an independent developer who funds this entire operation out of my own (sadly, very shallow) pockets, I fortunately have no one to answer to. And, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is and always will be my stance toward content censorship. Do note that I personally find the content that was recently banned from reddit pretty disgusting (to the point where I don’t even want to name some of the subreddits that didn’t get banned). However, I refuse to let that obstruct my ideals, and I will never play the role of morality police. There’s some stuff that’s still on there that I would never ever want to see. But am I okay with the fact that it exists? Absolutely. I’m just never going to look at that stuff.

By far the most egregious of these conditions is that they expect me to actively police and ban users. This flagrantly flies in the face of everything I believe in, and I’d never be able to agree to that in good conscience. I’m not Big Brother, and there is no place for the Thought Police on GroG, nor will there ever be.

Back to me and what I’m doing, there was a short list of features I wanted to add to the iOS app after the first version got approved. However, since it wasn’t approved, I’ll add these features and commit the changes to the Github repo after I finish the Android app and put it up in the Play Store (I’ll also be putting the source for that up on Github once there’s actually anything of note). As far as I know, anything can go there that isn’t a straight-up porn app. I’ll be working on the Android app in the coming months (I’d say I’m maybe 1-5% done with it right now – I’m mainly balking at all the UI stuff I would need to do =/).

In the mean time, I’d like to reiterate that the source code for the app is available on Github, and anyone with Xcode 7 can build the app for their device right now. The GroG Platform and I will continue to stand for your rights, promising a platform where anyone can express themselves freely.

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