Apple blocks news app about drone strikes — again

Apple apparently thinks users of its iPhone are so sensitive that it needs to shield them from a news app.

The app in question, called Metadata+, alerts users when there’s a new news report about a U.S. drone strike. It contains a simple text report and shows on a map where recent drone strikes have taken place. It doesn’t contain any graphic images of the strikes or much else.

But still, Apple apparently believes that’s too much for its users’ delicate sensitivities. On Tuesday, Apple pulled the app from its store after accepting it mere hours earlier, according to Josh Begley, the data artist who created Metadata+.

Apple didn’t give a reason for removing the app and it didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment. But the company has made its feelings clear about it in the past.

Begley originally designed Metadata+, then called Drones+, back in 2012. Apple repeatedly rejected it, using a variety of excuses. It wasn’t “useful or entertaining enough.” It didn’t “appeal to a broad enough audience.” But numerous times, Apple used the same rationale — the app was “objectionable.”

Apple finally accepted the app into its store in 2014, after Begley changed the name and stripped it of all content and gave it a more generic description. Once the app was in the store, he plugged back in all the historical information about drone strikes.

Then, just as suddenly, Apple removed the app more than a year later, saying it contained “excessively crude or objectionable content.”

Begley said he tried to re-submit the app 12 more times after that, finally and inexplicably getting it through on Tuesday only to have it removed again.

Apple has tried to keep a tight grip on the apps it allows in its store. In part it’s done that to protect users from malicious software. As a result, the vast majority of smartphone malware targets Android-based devices.

But the company has drawn controversy in the past for making seemingly capricious decisions about apps that aren’t malicious. It approved an app that allowed users to place a picture of themselves in a scene that made it look like they were having sex with a porn star. But it rejected a game that sought to highlight immigration issues for being “pornographic” because it included a cartoon representation of characters’ bodies going through a body scanner at a checkpoint.

For his part, Begley said the bigger story is about how the country’s drone wars remain largely hidden from view. The app represented his attempt to put a light on them and to see how that might affect public discussion. That impetus seems particularly relevant given that President Trump is pressing to lift even the minimal restraints President Obama put on the drone program and strikes are already up markedly in the first months of his administration, with the number of civilian casualties rising.

“If anything about the (Metadata+) app is ‘excessively objectionable or crude,’ perhaps it’s the airstrikes themselves,” Begley wrote.

Photo: An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moonlit night in 2010. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)


Tags: , ,


Share this Post

  • Dwight Fisher

    Perhaps the reporting of the drone strikes could be viewed as inciting anti-US sentiment in Muslim citizens as well as others who own iPhones and have relatives in the areas being targeted. There is also the issue of possible use as a recruitment tool among the jihadists.
    The world is larger and more complicated than just a sensitive few.

    • The news reports are already out there. This app just alerts people to new ones (and shows on a map where drone strikes have occurred). I find it hard to believe that an app that sends alerts about news reports is going to incite more anti-U.S. sentiment or be a better recruitment tool for jihadists than the original reports — much less the attacks themselves.

      Regardless, we as citizens have a right — arguably a responsibility — to know what our government is doing in our name, particularly when it’s launching attacks that kill civilians in an undeclared war.

  • Russel F.

    This is actually a big deal. Apple should really be busted with the same laws that prevent illegal, anti-competition behaviour – those same laws that were used to stop the telephone companies from playing the same bent games. Remember the old days? The phone companies made it policy not to allow any third-party equipment of any kind, to be connected to their networks. They *rented* you a key-telephone set at a high and recurring price, and it was “against their policy” to even allow an answering machine to be connected – much less a fax machine, or a direct-connected modem. Laws were passed (and others were just dusted-off, from the days of the Oil Trusts, circa early 1900’s), and this kind of abusive, anti-competition behaviour was prevented.

    Result was a whole new crop of businesses, products, and lots of innovation.

    Both IBM and Microsoft were busted under anti-monopoly laws, but Apple manages to just skate along as it blissfully trashes competition on its blocked, locked-in, proprietary products.

    I have to jump thru a bunch of hoops on my Macbook to write code that lets me put an app – for my own use only! – on my own iPad! On the iPad, I have to run Russian jail-break software, (redsn0w) just to gain root access to a computer device I paid $800 for, and which Apple has abandoned, no longer even making iOS software that runs on it! The restrictions are *nothing* to do with security, and *everything* to do with APL maintaining it’s illegal monopoly control of the hardware and software. They want to *own* the econsystem 100%. This is the econ-textbook definition of a monopoly.

    Apple should probably be fined $100 billion US, and told to stop this bad behaviour. They could pay the fine, because they have $250 billion US stashed off-shore, to evade US taxes (which is fair, heck, it is legal, they are allowed to do this). I don’t object to them being successful, but it does not seem necessary for them to engage in such restrictive, anti-competitive practices. At the very least, they should allow full *root* (ie. supervisor) access to their own computer devices, if a device purchaser wishes. They should pay a fine, and be forced to open up their bogus company store to any legal computer program – the one described in the article, for example – as well as any compiler, or an interpreter. I have APL running on my iPad, and I had to move heaven and earth (just about) to do it. Apple prevents – by their policy – any interpreters or programming languages – from being offered as “Apps” on their IOS devices. This is really bogus. I have a C-compiler running on my iPad. That took some doing, also.

    And bottom line is – this cool technology, which might actually make me some money – is absolutely blocked by the bastards at Apple from even being offered in their stupid iStore. ( I have a very primitive neural network, written in APL, running on the iPad. ) But there is *zero* go-to-market options for me with this technology and Apple’s iStore rules. I am happy to see game and toystuff developers make money. But it is being done at the expense of what these small tablet devices could actually be. Apple keeps them as locked-down, controlled toys – because it can make gigadollars off of this kid’s market. Brilliant business strategy – but it holds back the world now, because their monopoly behaviour is choking off all other opportunity channels.

    Break the bastards up, I say. Hit ’em with the same big hammer that was used on Standard Oil Trust early in the 1900’s, and on IBM and ATT in the 1970s, and Microsoft in the 1990’s. At least make them provide *root* access to anyone who wants to install their own software on the computing machine that the customer has purchased.

    Feel free to disagree. But let me say, the iPad, even the old first-gen device, makes a damn fine little computer, once you hack it open, and put APL and C and various real stuff on it. It’s BSD/Unix (basically Linux) under the hood. It can run SSH and SCP and you can log into it from a Windows or Linux box, and fling files back an forth easily – no Apple iOS bullsh*t stopping you. It will try to stop you from running any native-built C-code, (a “security” feature of iOS), but there are ways around that too. Once the machine is opened up to the world, it is a great little computer, despite being slow and memory-limited. See http: // www. gemesyscanadacom for the details on how to jailbreak the thing, if interested. I don’t dislike Apple (they make nice hardware), but their business practices should be altered, I feel. It’s maybe time now.

  • EllaFino

    The old saying out of sight out of mind fits this perfectly. Americans usually don’t care about a topic unless it is put directly in their face.

  • elkhornsun

    Clearly there is a need for an alternative to using Apple to locate and download apps when there is this level of corporate censorship in place as a matter of company policy and actively pursued.