Playing Favorites in the App Store

October 1st, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Of two iPhone apps providing the same service, one is deemed acceptable and the other is not. Fair or foul?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Are the people in charge of approving Apple iPhone apps playing favorites? According to a New York Times blog piece, the answer is yes.

Recently, Times writer Nick Wingfield reported on the rejection of a new iPhone app developed by Josh Begley, a graduate student at New York University. The app, Drone+, included an interactive map that would show recent strikes by unmanned aircraft and track media reports of casualties due to these attacks. Apple’s App Store team had rejected the app twice before for violations of its policies; first, because the app was not deemed “useful or entertaining enough” and second, because it violated Apple’s rule prohibiting “excessively objectionable or crude content.” But the app contained no graphic images, Wingfield pointed out – just the locations of strikes on a map.

The controversy surrounding Begley’s app might have gone unnoticed but for the source of the app’s data: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain, whose data is available by way of the British newspaper The Guardian’s (approved) iPhone app, as well as through its website.

As Wingfield writes, “It’s unclear whether Apple is treating the two parties differently because The Guardian is a well-known media organization and Mr. Begley is not, or whether the problem is that Mr. Begley chose to focus his app only on drone strikes.”

A CNET article points out that Apple’s app approval track record leaves much to be desires, in terms of consistency. When the App Store was introduced in March 2008, the article notes, Apple said that it would vet every single application based on the company’s internal standards. For example, an app submitted in 2009 by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore featuring a collection of his cartoons was rejected because it “ridiculed public figures.” But after public backlash in 2010, Steve Jobs called the rejection a mistake and Apple accepted Fiore’s app.

Is Apple creating a double standard by rejecting Drone+ while allowing the Guardian app to remain in the App Store? Or should Apple have unquestionable, free reign over the Store, since the apps offered represent the Apple brand? Weigh in here.