Apple censors Drones+ app

Anyone can create an app these days, ┬áso it’s usually not surprising when an app is rejected. Sometimes the idea has already been implemented in an existing app, or the app isn’t considered particularly useful. One can’t help but wonder if there’s a bit more going on with Apple’s decision to reject Drones+, an app created by Josh Begley.

Begley described his app to Wired as “bare bones” and says that it’s “literally just an aggregation of news” already available in other places. The app tracks strikes by U.S. drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Every time a drone strike happens, the area attacked is marked on a map and app users can then view news and statistics about the strike.

An example of the Drones+ app that has been turned down. Image from www.tuaw.com.

Apple has rejected Drones+ three times as of Aug. 30, 2012. The first time, Apple told Begley the app was “not useful.” The second time, they told him there was an issue with a corporate logo. The third time, however, Apple moved beyond interface issues and commented on the app content, calling it “crude and offensive.” Begley disagrees, saying that the app only collects information and does not use any grisly visuals.

Begley shared his hope that the app would start conversation on the issue of drone strikes. Unlike app designers going for a simple “cool factor,” Begley seems to understand the potential of smartphone technology to raise social awareness on important topics and create a more informed public. The fact that Apple has rejected something like this — and has not been consistent in their reasons for doing so — casts the company in a different light than their usual app rejections. Apple’s actions are impeding a useful tool.

One of the goals of technological advancement is to allow individuals better and easier access to information. Journalists and socially-conscious individuals have always taken advantage of technology to increase social awareness and to spread and collect information. From the invention of print to the advent of the Internet, the story of humanity has been the story of a search for connectedness. While interested parties can still find the information in variety of places elsewhere, Apple’s rejection of the Drones+ app is a frustrating example of censorship in the digital age.

Perhaps Apple’s rejection of the app is simply an honest, short-sighted mistake. Or perhaps it demonstrates discomfort with allowing citizens to easily monitor government activity, even if there is nothing covert about the information provided. In either case, it’s ludicrous to reject an app that provides valid information on the grounds of being “useless” and “crude,” when the company has approved apps that simulate flatulence and vomiting. The time may well be approaching when tech users of all brands must take a stand and tell manufacturers loudly and clearly that access to information is more important than what might be considered “offensive.”