Blog Post

Controversy: There’s an App for That

Recently the App Store (s aapl) has been in the news quite a bit for some controversial apps it accepted, and it seems a route savvy marketers can now use to skip traditional media and go straight for big exposure. Forget newspapers and TV; the best way to get the word out is via the App Store, and the controversy Apple creates when it accepts or rejects an app. But is it good for Apple?

Apple’s acceptance of an app giving information about the “ex-gay” movement caused one heck of a stir. People were talking about it everywhere, and petitions were flying left and right. Regardless of your stance on the issue of the app’s acceptance or content, the app’s developers walk away winners. In order to post a negative review, Apple requires someone to download (“purchase”) the app even if it’s free. Detractors (and some supporters) rushed to buy a product solely for the fact they didn’t like it. So the app garnered not only tons of press, but sales during its brief existence, too.

Similarly, an app that helps the user find speed traps and DWI checkpoints has inspired law enforcement and even U.S. lawmakers to debate the issue. Until Congress got involved, I had no interest in the app, but I sure downloaded it after all the chatter. I’m predicting the infamous Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church will soon submit an app and publicly display their rejection by Apple, too.

The amazing thing about these apps is that they are merely app-packaged versions of information the developers already had on their websites. Both the “ex-gay” and speed trap websites most likely struggled to get users and publicity prior to releasing apps. For the relatively low price of a developer kit, and some programming, now everyone is talking about them. The small business owner in me gives them a huge thumbs up for getting their message out in a cost-effective way.

Heck, when Apple pulled the “ex-gay” app recently and when (I predict) they pull the speed trap app, we’ll talk about both all the more: more of the developers’ message getting out, more hits to the website, and more supporters among the many detractors. Ironically, if Apple rejected these apps outright, they’d get nearly as much publicity. When Apple rejected (excuse me, “did not approve”) the Google Voice (s goog) app, more people started asking what Google Voice was. When Apple rejected a political cartoonist, I wanted to see what he was drawing.

All this chatter is great for Apple. All of a sudden, many iPhone owners wanted to know how to download these apps to either try them out or speak out against them. That likely means more of those registered credit card numbers Steve spoke about in his keynote and more users of the App Store in general. More eyeballs in the App Store is good for developers. Talk about no losers in the app economy!

Apple loves being the center of attention, and the app approval process is a big part of its ability to maintain that focus. These fringe apps keep people talking about Apple and its product. We simply don’t hear this chatter on the Android platform. Android generally accepts everything, so it’s much more difficult to get the word out — positive or negative. With something as controversial as “curing” homosexuality, did Apple not think people would complain? Sure, but in order to post their complaints in a place where it would be most visible to the app’s intended audience, users had to log in and buy the very app they derided.

As a lightning rod for controversy, the App Store is also a terrific PR machine. It may not be the most above-board way to draw attention to your cause or product, but it’s effective, and will likely remain so until (if ever) Apple establishes some hard-and-fast rules for its App Store approval process. And that’s not something it’s unlikely to do any time soon if people keep clicking, downloading and purchasing.

16 Responses to “Controversy: There’s an App for That”

  1. Fabuladico

    I don’t appreciate how my previous comments were ignored or not allowed to be posted as responses to your article. Somehow I doubt it was an error.

  2. Fabuladico

    I thought some of the same things while reading and participating in the discussions about the Exodus International Application. However, please investigate your sources in the future. You shouldn’t continue to promote the myth that the Exodus app or website claims to “cure people”. Exodus does not claim to cure anyone. That is not within their ability and certainly beyond the ability of an iPhone application, which simply provided mobile access to information available on their website. Their ministry Christian ministry simply helps people who want to leave the homosexual lifestyle to do so. If a person doesn’t live a life of faith and/or doesn’t want to leave their chosen lifestyle, then this website and app isn’t for them.

    @cptgibbs comment: Exodus is a non-proft, so there is no money to be made by their “top” people bailing out. Also, a differing opinion on a topic doesn’t make a comparison to Hitler and Nazi’s any more correct than any other time that is used on the Interweb. Hate is needed to fuel a “hate crime” and I have seen nothing but love and understanding offered on the Exodus International website and from it’s members.

    • Thanks for so much for your response and referring to the official response from the website in question. I appreciate your expertise and experience on this issue and sharing with us those quotes.

      Both the words “ex-gay” and “curing” were put in quotes since that is the terms being used by others to describe the apps. The article was about the controversy surrounding the applications and the fact that some may not be perceiving the app in the same way is important. The merits of the words were not discussed and this obviously isn’t a place to discuss the merits.

      Thanks for your readership and comments. If any comment was removed, it was most likely due to the fact it didn’t focus on the merits of the article, but as the author I have no way of knowing which comments are removed.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. In that case, why not STFU?

      Being gay is not a lifestyle. Gay people have all kinds of varied lifestyles, just like straight people. Being gay means, quite simply, that you happen to fall in love with people of the same sex as you. Everything else is exactly the same as straight people. The feelings are the same, the love and romance is the same. If 90% of people were gay, would you think a movement to “cure” you of falling in love with your wife was a good thing?

      Yes, Exodus is a hate group. Like many hate groups, they camouflage and rationalize their hate with religion and religious language. People excuse slavery with their religions, they excuse all kinds of hatred. Gay people are beaten and killed by religious people regularly. Exodus purports to be Christian, but they do not follow Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was surrounded by homosexuality in ancient Rome, and said not a thing against it. The closest he came to any comment on homosexuality was saying that Christians should not follow the book of Leviticus. You know, the one that is used against gay people by hateful Christians again and again like they don’t have even the vaguest human intelligence? Yes, Jesus said don’t follow that.

      A comparison to Hitler is actually valid here, because Hitler also attempted to cure homosexuality through violence. When you do what Hitler did, the comparison is apt. The “don’t compare to Hitler” rule is meant to preserve the comparison for when people actually do what Hitler did. Exodus says torture gay people and you can turn them straight, and they have left behind a string of tortured gay people who weren’t turned straight.

      I hope you feel proud of yourself for defending hatred today. You’re a really, really big man, picking on a minority. There was an eBook published on Amazon promoting the raping of children. You can defend that one next. The guy said it was actually “loving” children, he didn’t say any words that sounded hateful, so you will really love that guy.

      Yes, Exodus attempts to “cure” gay people, just like for many years, teachers attempted to “cure” left-handed kids. In both cases, it is harmful.

      • URWrong

        You are wrong on three points. First, being gay is a choice as both the “gay-for-pay” industry and former gays prove and second, Jesus was never in Rome nor did he ever say don’t read Leviticus. In fact he said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

        Nice try though.

  3. Yes, and Hitler was a genius.

    But everyone knows that. To flesh out the objective brilliance of the PR of either the Nazi’s rise to power or the PR track of Exodus is old news – I mean seriously, everyone with half a brain always claims to be this beacon of truth we’re supposed to respect just because you took a “bad” thing and showed how a certain aspect of it is “good.”

    How will this PR affect organizations like Exodus? Lots of short term attention, probably some short term sponsor packages? Yippee – eventually the avalanche of bad PR will overrun them and they’ll be sunk… or the “top” will bail and make money and sink the little man. Either way, that aspect of the situation is kind of boring.

    Apple is getting way too much heat for this, and the fact that they’re dealing with it like spineless cowards isn’t helping much. One statement saying “we believe in free market and free speech.” That’s all they have to do. Sure there’d be some backlash, probably even a little drop in revenue, but nothing Apple would even blink at. Long term, people would accept it and just choose to steer away from the things that they didn’t like. Interesting thing is that even under free speech exodus is covered, as it calls for the imminent endangerment of another citizen.

    As a slightly off-topic conclusion, I am so sick and tired of the “adult generation” (35+) classifying EVERYTHING that goes viral as good. It shows a distinct lack of understanding of the way in which younger generations have adopted and utilized the internet, particularly when it comes to the psychosocial implications of those decisions.

    • I agree that Apple could easily end the controversy regarding these apps, but it isn’t about the content of the apps, it’s about people talking about Apple and the App store.

      I don’t agree that these organizations are getting any bad PR. These apps are extensions of their websites. Attention is being drawn to their mission and beliefs, not to the fact they have an app for the most part. The controversy is acceptance of these apps into the App store.

      No revenue is involved with Apple with these apps because both are free.

      And I didn’t mention viral. That word is way overused by any generation.

      • I’m not sure what you mean specifically by the word “it,” (“it isn’t about…”) so I’m going to assume that you mean the perceived problem with the apps being approved by Apple. “They” are going to talk. They’ll always talk. About everything. I’m pretty sure the safest bet (economically-speaking) would be to establish themselves as a proponent of free-speech and let everyone else figure the rest out.

        I’m honestly not even sure how to respond to your second point. If you, honestly and truly, cannot see any long-term (again: LONG-term) detrimental effects as a result of negative exposure then I’m not sure finding a counter example would even help.

        And I read your article – I know the apps are free. Sponsors and ad-space are how free things still make money.

        If you had read my response, you would have seen that I never once accused you of using the word viral – it’s the fact that you classified the exposure of exodus as such.

        Words are never overused – their connotations are.

    • Fabuladico

      Can you further explain how Exodus International, “calls for the imminent endangerment of another citizen”? I have scoured the Internet for any evidence of this and find no mention of this.

      • To be fair – I got the information from the link provided in this article. I should have mentioned that I was operating solely on the information provided by the author – my mistake. :)

      • Hamranhansenhansen

        Exodus tortures gay people to turn them straight. Literally, we are talking about electrodes on the genitals.

        No, their torture instruction manual doesn’t belong in Apple’s store. They can get on iPhones and iPads via the unrestricted HTML5 API.

      • Definitely – and yet, there are still serious flaws in the logic used both in your original article and in your response. If you open up comments on your articles be prepared to amend your statements – otherwise, censorship is your friend, or you just come off as arrogant (which, truly, I don’t think you are… just saying).