Freedom Time rejected by Apple for App Store

[The following blog entry was deleted by me and is now restored; although originally Apple added a line that said that communications were “under NDA” and as I value my status as an Apple developer and don’t have any interest in getting involved in a dispute I redacted their rejection letter and this blog entry. Now that Apple has redacted the NDA, I am including the blog entry and rejection letter again.]

After a wait of 10 days while Freedom Time was in review, Apple sent us our Dear John letter.

I find the word “censorship” a bit strong, so I’ll use it carefully. But the long and short of it is that Apple did not find the Freedom Time app to their liking:

Hello Juggleware Developer,
Upon review of your application, Freedom Time cannot be posted to the App Store because it contains content that does not comply with Community Standards.  Usage of such materials, as outlined in the iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.12, is prohibited:

“Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

Defaming, demeaning, or attacking political figures is not considered appropriate content for the App Store.

If you would like to provide an application that contains such content to a group of friends, then we encourage you to use the Ad Hoc application distribution method.  Please go to the Distribution Tab in the iPhone Developer Portal for complete information on Ad Hoc distribution.

Best Regards,

iPhone Application Review Team
Apple Developer Connection 
Worldwide Developer Relations

I don’t believe that we violated the terms as they were specifically defined. The reason in the rejection letter was that it’s not appropriate to defame, demean, or attack political figures. The original terms I agreed to of course allow for  “Apple’s reasonable judgment”  which means that they have the right to reject anything they want of course by applying their own standards, and as it’s their App Store, I don’t dispute that right.

However, I could not disagree more with the approach both to the general public and to the developer community, and I wish they’d been more clear in defining what was “offensive”  or “demeaning.” I can honestly say that I believe this app does not demean George W. Bush. If we had wanted to do that, we’d have made him look like a monkey. (But then people would say that we were demeaning monkeys!).

Defamation means making an untrue claim about someone in order to hurt their public standing. This app makes no untrue claims whatsoever. It actually goes pretty light on “W” considering his record. A good case could be shown that the guy is probably a war criminal, possibly even a traitor in his role as military leader with respect to the Constitution. However, this App does nothing but animate him count the time till he leaves, and play back a few quotes that the guy himself said. The text “till the end of an error” is the only thing that could even remotely be considered defamatory (if it wasn’t obviously satirical). I know in Britiain the laws are a bit different, but in the USA you can say just about anything you’d like about a political figure and it’s not considered defamation. Especially if it falls under parody or satire, and this certainly would.

This isn’t exactly a case of First Amendment rights, and I can see why Apple wants to keep the App Store clean of controversy, but I think they really walk a thin line trying to make themselves arbiters of what is tasteful and what is not. There should be some sort of rating for explicit material, of course, and for stuff like this maybe put it in a “Satire” or “Commentary” section of the App Store so that people who get offended by such things won’t have to navigate to that part of the store.

I’d heard of their rejecting applications for duplicating technology and a violent comic book for being too violent, but I didn’t think they’d ban a lighthearted political satire very gently mocking the least popular president in recent U.S. history (if not all-time). 

My first Apple program was a text-based AppleBASIC Lunar Lander on an Apple ///, I’ve been a Macintosh afficionado for ages, and I’m even an Apple shareholder. The iPhone and the App Store are two of the coolest things that I’ve come across in ages, and have gotten me more excited about development than anything has in a long time — but I won’t deny that this puts a serious dent in my enthusiasm.

My hope is that they review and reconsider their policy. I’ve written them back, and at the urging of my friend John who’s a fellow Apple junkie, an email to Steve Jobs, in the off hope that he’ll see it. John says he responds to developers’ emails now and again, but I’m not holding my breath.

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12 Responses to Freedom Time rejected by Apple for App Store

  1. alec says:

    I found another person who had the same problem, and all his app did was list actual George W. Bush quotes.

    See this blog. I left some comments here as well:

  2. JJ says:

    You probably had coming to you what you got. Your website calls Bush a D#$@bag and says he was an international nightmare. Now you may beleive that, and many do – but you think Apple wants to get mixed up with you? I mean, your ripping Bush right on your homepage for the app. Job is a democrat – but he ain’t gonna mess with pissing off half his customer base. Actually, if your website were a tad more tame and you didn’t rip Bush – maybe it would fly because it’s not a bad idea. use it more in the sense of a countdown to the next administration, not a countdown until the douchbag is out of office type thing.

  3. alec says:

    Actually JJ, we were careful not to use the word “douchebag” until after Apple rejected the app.

    We added that after the fact.

  4. alec says:

    In the spirit of reconciliation, and especially since he is now safely away from the Oval Office, I removed the word “douchebag” from that page. But I believe that Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has called Bush (along with other politicians and media personalities) a “douchebag” on a regular basis — and The Daily Show is available for purchase and download in the iTunes Store.

    Apple customers who don’t like their presidents jabbed at are free to not download The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, just as they would have been free to not download Freedom Time, had they been given the option. I guess that’s just too much freedom for some people though.

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