With its latest crackdown on adult-themed applications, Apple has reignited the controversy over the app approval process without providing more clarity. The company has recently purged an unspecified number of risque apps and warning developers that it was removing apps with "overtly sexual content," according to TechCrunch.
But apparently the new restrictions may also exclude less explicit material like images of women in bikinis and any sexual innuendo or references to terms like boobs, babes, and booty. If so, that begs the question of why Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit '10 app is still available in the App Store and others with similar content have been pulled--like one that animated pictures of bikini models?
It's hard to tell from anything Apple has said publicly on the topic. "Whenever we receive customer complaints about objectionable content we review them," the company told Information Week in an e-mailed statement. "If we find these apps contain inappropriate material we remove them and request the developer make any necessary changes in order to be distributed by Apple."
Developers have also complained about the spam-like proliferation of adult-oriented apps because they end up making it harder for people to discover other apps. They can account for up to one-third of apps in certain categories, according to Information Week. Some developers have pushed for creating a virtual "red light district" in the App Store for overtly sexual programs.
Of course, that idea might not appeal to media companies and marketers who might fear having more racy apps being wrongly lumped into an adult category. But with apps increasingly becoming part of mainstream culture, some type of formal rating system, like those in the movie, video game and music industries, may ultimately be inevitable.
In the meantime, developers say Apple should still do better. "As a partner to Apple, it would be be very nice to have a less arbitrary set of guidelines," said Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of mobile agency Moderati, best known as the developer of the Zippo virtual lighter app. Providing a clearer set of standards on innapropriate material material would help encourage media companies and marketers to invest in building apps without wondering about rejection.
"I think everyone would be happy to follow the rules and guidelines," if they were more transparent, he said. Otherwise developers will increasingly turn to other app platforms that are either more open or impose less arbitrary rules.