Why Was the WikiLeaks App Pulled From App Store? [Updated]

UPDATE: Apple’s official stance on the removal of the WikiLeaks app is that “it violated [their] developer guidelines,” according to the New York Times. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller added that “[a]pps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way,” which suggests that the guideline it violated wasn’t the one related to charitable donations.

Given enough time, it seems like everyone will eventually become entangled in the ever-sprawling WikiLeaks story, which began back in late November when the whistle-blowing site started publishing a trove of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Today, it’s Apple’s (s aapl) turn, as overnight, an unofficial WikiLeaks iOS app was pulled from the App Store after being approved only last week. Before you run out and fire up your Low Orbit Ion Cannon to wreak DDOS justice on Cupertino servers, it’s important to point out censorship isn’t the only suspect in this rejection case.

Like with most things Apple does, it’s not immediately obvious what the reasoning is behind this latest action. Certainly Apple has been known to remove apps containing content the company doesn’t approve of, and while that may be what happened here, as TechCrunch claims, it’s not necessarily so. The app may simply have violated App Store guidelines around collecting donations.

According to its iTunes page, the app sold for $1.99, with one dollar of every purchase being donated to “organizations that work to promote the future of online democracy.” This might be read as a violation of the App Store Review Guidelines, which state that “[a]pps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free” and “[t]he collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS.” Of course, that guideline could also be read as only applying to apps that use in-app purchases to collect money, rather than a developer just donating part of his proceeds. The guideline is vague, perhaps by design.

We may never know why this particular app was pulled from the store. Resubmission as a free app, or removing mention of donations could remedy the problem, if indeed Apple isn’t just taking issue with the nature of the app’s content. If not though, you can always just open up mobile Safari and head over to http://wikileaks.ch or http://liebermanforpresident.org to view the cables there. The great thing about the Internet, as activist John Gilmore famously put it, is that “[t]he Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Apple devices aren’t immune to this rule. At least not yet.

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