Privacy SOS

Censorship at Apple: No drone strike notification app for iPhone users

UPDATE: The app's creator, Josh Begley, tweeted this today. Apple doesn't seem to have a problem with drone apps, after all. 

The app developer says it is just a news aggregation tool, but Apple calls it "objectionable and crude" and won't allow it in the official App Store. The Drones+ application concept is pretty simple: It would send a notification to users whenever, as Wired puts it, "a flying robot[] kills someone in one of America’s many undeclared wars."

The updates the App pushes to users look a lot like text messages, but they convey grisly messages: "An unknown number of CIA drones struck at 9:20pm, firing up to eight missiles into a housing compound. Up to 14 people were killed," reads one example in the promotional video for the application.

Apple has thrice rejected the App, each time citing wildly different reasons. From Wired: "First, Apple called the bare-bones application that aggregates news of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia “not useful.” Then there was an issue with hiding a corporate logo. And now, there’s this crude content problem."

Its creator, Josh Begley, points out that there isn't much he can do to address the "content problem," given that his product is "literally just an aggregation of news." 

War is a crude business, to be sure. But Apple doesn't have a problem with applications describing wars or mimicking them. The App Store is flush with war games, where users can pretend to kill people and conquer territory:

Furthermore, news apps offered by companies like The New York Times and The Guardian regularly contain hideous photographs of war and stories of people who have been slaughtered by governments and mercenaries across the globe. Apple doesn't seem to have a problem with that "crude" content.

The company didn't respond to Wired's offer for a comment about its three-time denial of Begley's app, but the utterly distinct reasons the technology giant gave its creator for the repeated rejections suggest that what is motivating Apple isn't just crude content, aesthetics or utility. After all, there are plenty of objectionable, ugly and largely useless applications littering the App Store.

Apple's censorship here instead smacks of political interference in the worst way. The firm should cut it out and allow users who want to download Drones+ to do so freely. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.