Apple has for many years attempted to project its incoherent definition of decency onto iPhone users, typically when it comes to sex. But as of today, we know that news about killer drone strikes is too hot for the App Store, too.
Josh Begley is an artist and editor at The Intercept with a particular interest in drone warfare—he operates @Dronestream, an account of publicized American drone strikes. In 2012, Begley made an iOS companion app for the Twitter stream that would provide push notifications to keep you abreast of drone attacks around the world (also known as “news”), and Apple rejected it five times for being “not useful or entertaining enough” and too narrow in focus.
Meanwhile, apps like this one continued to account for a large portion of the App Store:
Finally, Begley resubmitted the Dronestream app under an unrelated name (“Metadata+”) and it was approved without hesitation. That was last year.
Over the weekend, Metadata+ users received a push notification from the App Store to alert them that the software had been pulled:
It’s hard to imagine what about national security news presented in text format could be considered “crude” (let alone “excessively” so), and while the idea of extrajudicial killings is objectionable, aggregated news of it happening isn’t.
Apple is also a repository of thousands upon thousands of tremendously stupid apps that are both crude and worthless—the idea that drone data is over some moral line is insane:
An app about drone attacks, even if it included graphic photos of impact craters and charred bodies (which Metadata+ never did) would be less objectionable than half the bullshit Apple approves.
Over email, Begley told me that he’ll continue his work:
I still plan to update the Twitter account as new drone strikes get reported—and Metadata+ should continue to work for everyone who has it downloaded on their phone. But new users won’t be able to install it.
He also added, as an aside, that this “comes on the heels of Apple pulling 300 apps from the store due to malware. The infected apps were made possible by a modified version of Xcode (a tactic first developed by the CIA, which Jeremy Scahill and I reported on here).”
But he also has a backup—an app called “Ephemeral” provides all the drone news functionality of Metadata+, but has evaded Apple’s scrutiny because its App Store entry consists of nothing but placeholder art and text. That the following would get a thumbs up from Apple after Begley was turned down so many times before tells you much about how the company operates:
Correction: This post originally stated that Josh Begley is a freelance journalist—in fact he is an editor at The Intercept.