The Great Firewall of Apple's App Store


AppStore_iconApple (s aapl) has taken on a seemingly impossible task with the iPhone App Store: policing it for potentially objectionable applications. There are many, many apps that have been forbidden from the store. Some apps go against Apple or AT&T’s (s t) terms of service, contain “questionable” content, or simply serve no purpose — some bans are justified, and some are bewildering.

Whose definition of “objectionable” or “inappropriate” is the company using? Why are farts, which some people find offensive, allowed, but “South Park” isn’t? It’s all so vague and, worse, inconsistent — something we’ve written about for almost a year. Sometimes the company approves apps and then reconsiders; last week, Apple decided to deny the official Google Voice app from the store, and then went back and removed several existing Google Voice apps that had already been approved. That action has caused much controversy, including an FCC investigation. This week, Apple banned Perfect Acumen, a prolific app maker with hundreds of approved apps — all pretty much useless and spammy — on the store. If the apps were ban-worthy, how did more than 900 get onto the store in the first place? Regardless, the App Store is Apple’s turf, and to be in the company’s playground you have to play by its rules, whether we like them or not. Too bad we don’t really know what those rules are.

Here’s a brief and not-at-all exhaustive list of apps that have been banned, held up or changed because of Apple’s App Store rules:

  • Eucalyptus – This e-book reader was rejected because it let users read the Kama Sutra, from Project Gutenberg. Apple decided this was “inappropriate content,” even though the book could easily be read from several other applications on the store, including Amazon’s (s amzn) Kindle app. After extensive media coverage, Apple relented and allowed the app in.
  • NetShare – Apple initially approved this app, which allows users to browse the Internet on their computer through the iPhone’s data connection, but then proceeded to ban it once it got some media attention. Typically, AT&T sells data “tethering” for $60 a month. No tethering apps allowed.
  • Baby Shaker – Some developers are left scratching their heads trying to figure out why their apps got denied, when others get through without an issue. Baby Shaker simulated shaking a baby to death with the accelerometer. Apple quickly pulled the app, but it begs the question: How did this get through the approval process?
  • Perfect Acumen – Sure, Apple might have more 50,000 apps on the store, but 943 of them were from these folks. The developer posted tons of one-subject apps that were little more than glorified RSS readers dedicated to one or two subjects. Economic Crisis Updates, iSoaperStarsUpdates, Top Sexy Women, and more. The apps are all $4.99 and likely cost next to nothing to make. Even if the company only sold a few of each item, it’s still a likely profitable business “model”  — or it was, until Apple banned the entire company, apps and all, from the store.
  • Google Voice – Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application, perhaps the most famous App Store rejection, got the FCC’s attention. The commission sent letters to Apple, Google (s goog) and AT&T to determine how and why the application was rejected from the App Store and if the iPhone maker’s actions were anti-competititve. This story is a long, long way from over. It’s unclear if Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s resignation from the Apple board had anything to do with this, but it can’t have helped.
  • Nine Inch Nails – Trent Reznor submitted a Nine Inch Nails app to the store, but it was denied because of “objectionable content” — in this case, a NIN song titled “The Downward Spiral” that was included in the app. Reznor was furious with Apple because the same song is available, unedited, on the iTunes Music Store. Apple later relented and posted the app.
  • Opera – The Norwegian browser maker, very popular on a number of mobile platforms, designed a version of Opera Mini for the iPhone, but it was rejected because it competes with Apple’s Safari browser and includes a separate JavaScript interpreter — a big no-no for developers.
  • “South Park” – Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind “South Park,” made an iPhone app for their TV show, but “after a couple of attempts to get the [app] approved,” the program was rejected for “potentially offensive” content. In an announcement about the rejection, “South Park” claimed Apple admitted its “standards would evolve,” noting that when iTunes was first launched, there was no music available with explicit lyrics. For now, though, it’s the iPhone that killed Kenny.
  • Pull My Finger – Apple originally rejected the Pull My Finger app because it was “of limited utility” to the community — however, after much deliberation, Apple decided to accept the app. The company noted that it’s “still determining how this new genre of [humor] apps would be handled.” Once it was approved, though, the iPhone community resoundingly voted with their wallets, sending the fart-noise app up the best-seller list. The App Store’s fart apps even made it onto “The Daily Show.”
  • FreedomTime – This app, released last fall, counted down the days until then-President George W. Bush left office. Apple denied the app because it was potentially defamatory or demeaning to a national figure. That may be true, but still, why deny the app? It’s not as bad as some others. The developer even emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs about the rejection — and received a response! Jobs replied, “Even though my personal political leanings are Democratic, I think this app will be offensive to roughly half our customers. What’s the point?” What’s the point indeed, Mr. Jobs — what’s the point of rejecting this app?



This is kind of a stupid article. Society has never been able to draw a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable speech or even action. We know where the extremes should be, but things get a lot muddier in the middle.

It’s nice of you to think Apple can do what society has not been able to. But it’s not very intelligent thinking.


Anyone else think getting an App approved is akin to getting the lead part in a movie via the Couch in the producer’s office. No wonder hollywood’ers love this device. :-)


A list of banned Apps that includes one never submitted and ones that can be found in the App Store. It kind of weakens your argument when you have to pad the list like that.

Many of apps that have been rejected have been made to deliberately break Apple’s app guidelines and yet have still submitted anyway. When you know it breaks the rules, how can you be upset with the results?

Up to this point, there has been no way to put restrictions on apps in the iPhone/iPod touch, so all apps must be suitable for children. That has caused many rejections but that situation will change soon.

I think the incredible popularity of the Apps for iPhone/iPod touch has caught everybody, including Apple, by surprise. Apple will catch up eventually.


Nice summary of the App store drama. One nitpick, though. Opera Software never submitted its browser to the App store for review, they figured it wouldn’t be allowed.

“So I went back to Mr. von Tetzchner for more details. He said that the development of the iPhone browser was more an “internal project” of some engineers than a product that management was committed to introducing. Indeed, development was halted after the company looked at the details of the license agreement in Apple’s software development kit and realized that it would not be permitted.”


Quite correct. The worst that can be said of the Perfect Acumen case is that Apple should have been more rigourous in applying its rules from the get-go. On the one hand developers want instant approval, so we are told, and on the other we expect Apple to be consistent in its approval process putting 50,000+ apps on the ‘shelf’ in about 12 months. Mistakes happen and if the questionable list had been 100 rather than 10 it would still be small beer.

This is the real world not heaven. Do I hear great public outcry about what products Walmart chooses to put on its shelves or what it removes? Do you know Walmart’s rules? Is Walmart consistent in what it chooses to sell or reject?

Apple will sort itself out one way or another given a bit of time.

Mishan Aburted

Apple’s App Store crap wouldn’t be so bad except for the other problem: it’s the only legitimate way to distribute iPhone apps. Imagine if Apple did this with Mac software.

It’s pretty pathetic to hear fanboys excuse every wall Apple puts up to restrict what people can do.


It is equally pathetic to hear an apologist cum fanboi saying like wise.

It is their store if you guys can do better start something of your own and compete with Apple and put your money where your mouth is, yea talk is cheap but you guys make them a lot cheaper with your constant whining and bitching.


You should relax. While it is their own store to f*ck over, eventually developers will be the ones to change the tide over to another platform. Apple has been lucky that no other platform has the appeal Apple currently does, but as soon as another store starts hitting the sales figures Apple does then it’s game over. Apple needs to pull it together now while they’re still the industry standard.


Apple just made it into the news again, although it doesn’t have anything to do with applications, I think it was really interesting to see that some people are making such a huge deal that Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, stepped down from his place on the board for Apple. I think it was a smart decision, with all those anti-trust laws. But still isn’t it interesting that the Google Apps were taken down so close to when Schmidt stepped down?!?! Check out this video that talks about why Schmidt stepped down.

Alex Popescu

Lately, I was wondering what exactly is the submission process. Are you required to fill in some questionnaire? Are you submitting the app? Can anyone with experience in AppStore describe the steps?



Uh, Whose store is it?

Apple could have picked out their fave 100 designers and told everyone else to go screw themselves. It’s their store.

I would hate like hell being in retail and have to crowdsource my inventory.

Virtually every programmer I know welcomes the opportunity offered by Apple and is perfectly willing to put up with rather minor problems that may not meet SDS standards for a Love-In.

Cripes. This is a business not a commune.

Sean Fitts

All very true. On the other hand there is certainly nothing wrong with pointing out the inconsistent manner in which Apple manages its store. That way potential consumers can decide whether or not they agree with that approach and make informed decisions about the mobile devices they choose to purchase.

I also think that there is nothing wrong with putting a little pressure on Apple to be more open about the rules under which it operates its store. They can of course demur (to their customers at least, we’ll see how far that gets them with the FCC).

In the end though you are correct – their store, their rules.


Thanks ,
Very well written articles with data to back up the claims.

Plain naked truth is , iPhone helps the non tech savvy folks to install apps with a single tap.
Real geeks know how to install their own apps on their jail broken phone.

Until we find a competing installation procedure that is as elegant plus as tight as the current official APPLE one , we will continue to be deprived of cool apps.

Apple is protecting their business, but the day of Anti trust questioning them is happening now.


Agree, also I just never get this line..if you don’t like it …don’t use it….does this simply mean we live in a lawless society?


i should be allowed to buy pot from someone who sells it, why is it everyone else bothered ?

I should go around and rape women in daylight, why should anyone else be bothered, i’m raping her in my store.

Just to pass time, i would shoot people to death randomly for visiting my store, if you dont like it, dont visit my store :o) is what Apple is trying to be unlawful in a land ruled by laws.

hell, you can’t beat your own kids or your wife now a days, those days are past over, even if they are your own blood. you have to live by societies laws.

Apple is acting like a gangster in the 50’s, it must be fined 2 billion dollars to give them a sense that they are living in 21st century and everyone has to play by the rules.

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