Blog Post

Apple Moves to Quash “Overtly Sexual” iPhone Apps

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Due to repeated and numerous customer complaints, and despite the fact that they seem to pretty regularly make their way into the top 25 and 50 lists of both free and paid apps, Apple (s aapl) decided this week to begin removing software from the App Store it deems “overtly sexual.”

News of the policy change comes via a letter sent to the developer of “Wobble iBoobs,” which informed them that under the new guidelines the app was determined to be inappropriate and would be removed. In the letter, Apple explained that the App Store policies are subject to change, and that it is “constantly refining” its definition of what’s deemed appropriate, based at least in part on user feedback.

TechCrunch received a copy of the email notifying Wobble iBoobs developers about the policy change and resulting removal of their app. Apple does note in the following excerpt that the ban is reversible:

We have decided to remove any overtly sexual content from the App Store, which includes your application. Thank you for your understanding in this matter. If you believe you can make the necessary changes so that Wobble iBoobs (Premium Uncensored) complies with our recent changes, we encourage you to do so and resubmit for review.

While a few other similarly-themed apps have been removed from the App Store, too, apparently in keeping with the new policy changes, some others remain, raising the question of what exactly Apple categorizes as “overtly sexual.” The top 25 and 50 lists appear to have been scrubbed pretty much clean, but some apps in the Entertainment category still seem pretty sexual to me. Hard to mistake the intent of the official “Playboy” app as anything but, for instance.

Though my gut reaction is to decry Apple for censoring something as relatively innocuous as sexually suggestive material (caveat: I’m a Canadian; we’re pretty okay with nudity and sex in general), I actually can’t help but be really pleased with the move as a regular App Store customer. As far as I’m concerned, the kind of novelty sexual app that Wobble iBoobs represents wasn’t doing much more than taking up valuable real estate in the App Store’s top downloads list, blocking spots that might otherwise be occupied by something useful I’d actually consider downloading.

Apparently, the apps were somewhat popular, since they managed to appear on those top lists with fair frequency, and Wobble iBoobs was downloaded more than 970,000 times during its App Store career. But if you feel the need to get your jollies on the iPhone (and I really can’t imagine why you would, for screen size issues alone), then take to the web and leave my App Store out of it. Mobile Safari’s right there, and I guarantee you’ll be much better served going that route anyway. Does anyone else see this as a change for the better, or am I alone here?

Related GigaOM Pro Content:

29 Responses to “Apple Moves to Quash “Overtly Sexual” iPhone Apps”

  1. I’m glad to see so many men wanting to see this crap out of the App. Store. It’s degrading to women and offensive. People who do not want to see it should not have to be subjected to it as they are browsing the App. Store. It’s not about “censorship.” It’s about protection. There are plenty of ways to view porn if that’s the road you “choose”, but I for one don’t want to be “forced” to. Nor do I feel men and children should have to be forced to see it.

    Keep cleaning it up Apple!

  2. Apple’s new ‘overtly sexual app’ policy doesn’t come as a surprise. They’re too big and mainstream as a company to cater to the adult space.

    For those interested, a great alternative market place for adult app content is the MiKandi App Store. We don’t have censorship or heavy restrictions like other App Stores. As long as it’s legal, it’s good to go.

    It’s available now on Android devices, but will be available across multiple platforms later this year (Jailbroken iPhone at the top of the list).

    For those that have had apps rejected from Apple’s App Store, you’re more than welcome to publish your content on MiKandi! =)

    (Personal thought: If I shell out “smartphone money” for my device, I want an App Store that treats me like I’m an adult).

  3. I’d like to know how this fits with Apple being a new eBook source. If Playboy magazine wanted to make an electronic version, despite being the least pornographic of any leading adult magazine, they would apparently be banned?

    Hell, the iBoobs app they’ve banned, as well as most of the screenshots that are now “inappropriate” are all significantly tamer than the cover of Maxim magazine, which is available at every grocery store in my country in the “family magazines” section.

  4. If Apple just created a CATEGORY for the adult apps things would be so much better. Why does the Utilities top 25 have 16 adult-ish apps in it? The store has been polluted by the failure to properly categorize, not by the apps themselves.

  5. I oppose this restrictive move by Apple, as I cannot condone censorship in any form. I’ve never understood why people get so upset about the sexual interests or activities of others. No one has the right to decide for anyone else what they can or cannot view. A separate Adult category for such apps does make sense, though. Otherwise, get over yourselves, ye Puritans who stay awake nights worrying that somewhere, someone is having a good time.

  6. I was one of those who complained. It was getting to the stage where one could not even have the app store open while the kids were around.

    These “overtly sexual” apps seemed to appear in many categories as well as the top N lists.

    It devalues the brand. Well done Apple!

  7. Its a good decision. Why not have at least one place on the net you can visit that does not push sex. I like the fact its getting cleaned up, it brings back some credibility and professionalism to the whole thing as someone said about, if you want that, go and download it elsewhere. Bravo apple.

    • Mark Crump

      The problem is, Apple is the gatekeeper for apps that aren’t web apps. Now, I agree that these types of apps shouldn’t be on the App store (especially since there are plenty of ways to look at adult content within the built-in browser.

      However, this reminds me of the anti-obscenity crusade in the 50s-70s. I don’t want Apple to censor what I can and can’t do on my device. I want them to make sure the app works and doesn’t violate any existing copyright laws and NOT if the app is deemed *worthwhile*

      Changing the rules after these apps has been approved doesn’t make me, as a consumer, feel Apple has a firm grasp of what they are doing with the App Store.

      My beef isn’t that the boobs are gone. I’m just worried about the time they decide an app I DO use a lot is “worthless” or “doesn’t fit with their vision.”

  8. I am an app developer and I had numerous apps pulled from the store due to this change in policy. The scary part isn’t just the censorship, it’s the way in which they changed their policy. There was no notice whatsoever. I simply received a stream of emails notifying me that my apps were pulled. Apple could have at least notified the developers of a change in policy and given us notice to modify our apps. I have spent countless thousands of dollars and hours developing apps based on their guidelines that were systemically altered without notice or consideration for those that have made the app store such a success. It’s a disgrace.

  9. Well, I thought this was going to become a non-issue with the advent of parental controls in 3.0. But since the listings themselves aren’t filtered out, you still get deluged with age inappropriate stuff if you just browse the store.

    Seems like it would be useful to filter the app store lists according to the parental controls.

    Alternatively/additionaly, why not just create an “adult” section (Adult Lifestyle) and slap all the boob apps over there? Sorta like the video stores of old did?

  10. I too am glad to see these apps kicked off. Considering how many duplicates and crappy creations of this type have filled up the app store, I’m happy to see it weeded out.

    To be honest, I wish Apple would go in with a chainsaw and *really* clean house. You know, get rid of stupid apps that do nothing, etc. I’d rather have an app store of 25,000 really goods apps as opposed to 125,000 pieces of garbage.

  11. As much as I love my iPhone and my Macbook, Apple as a company rarely fails to piss me off. I can’t stand many of the misogynistic apps in the app store, but that doesn’t mean we prevent people from purchasing them. You would think a company so dedicated to technological advancement as Apple is would recognize what century we’re living in. And, no, I put no stock in the argument that, since kids have access to the app store, we should move toward full-fledged authoritarian censorship. If parents insist on buying their young children iPhones (something that no child actually needs), and if the parents’ credit cards are presumably used for app store purchases, then the parents can do what responsible parents everywhere are supposed to do: actually monitor what their kids are buying.

  12. I don’t think that censure or removing is a solution for anything.
    They should organize the mess App Store is becoming.
    There’s a LOT more than porn that is not suitable for children or more sensitive people.

  13. While I’m all for coming up for a way to protect our children and make it such that content like this isn’t exposed to them in the wrong context, I feel that this move is a slippery slope for Apple. Already, the App Store approval process is questionable at best (some apps get through despite competing with Apple’s built-in apps, some not). With this sort of editorializing, at what point does Apple stop? I agree that apps should meet some sort of technical muster (not that most seem to), but content censorship leads to ever-more questionable apps. What about an app that’s overly political (the Obama app)? Overly racial? Overly sexist? Should we remove the apps that are “moms only” (there’s a couple that have shopping lists, things to do today, explicitly for moms) because they promote the stereotype that dads can’t be the stay-at-home parent in a family? Anyone who has an axe to grind just has to make hay with Apple and wait for them to respond.

  14. While I completely detest all of the porn/porn lite apps, I understand that some people want them. What irritates me is where they are placed within the store. Most of them are in the entertainment category, and some times manage to get into other categories as well, and I am unwillingly subjected to having to see them.

    I think Apple should allow them in the app store, but in a category of their own, something that users can easily disable through parental controls and blissfully enjoy a porn-free app store.

  15. I am with you on this! i am pleased that the amount of crap on the app store is being cut down. Next i want to see apps that serve no purpose gone. there are a few apps that are ‘jokes’ or apps that are so bad, that people download them just to see how bad they are (a poo flinging app among them!) and they keep appearing everywhere which is pretty annoying!

  16. Lets not forget that many kids also has access to IPhone, and there is no way anyone can govern what they download. So Apple should try their bit to keep only those app which can safely viewed by children of all ages!

    • @Omar This is true, but with the way that Apple decides what’s +17, it’s a pretty broken system. Why the heck is eBay a +17 app?! Because Apple says so, that’s why. Most RSS apps are also 17+, because they allow you to access the internet. So while it is possible to block access to “older” applications, doing so results in perfectly normal applications being restricted.

      Plus, setting such a rating doesn’t actually block the apps from the app store. It would be like flagging explicit music as non-downloadable, but still allowing you to listen to the preview. It’s broken.