Monday, May 17, 2010

Debate of the Week: Should Computer Makers be Able to Censor Content? (UPDATED)

Please comment below. Remember to keep it civil. Don't assume anything about the people you disagree with. I will delete any comments that are offensive or veer too far off topic. Thank you in advance.

Recently, in an email exchange with a Gawker blogger, Apple overlord Steve Jobs defended an ad that referred to the company's new iPad as a "revolution." The iPad, Jobs said, offers users freedom, including "freedom from porn."  

Apple and Jobs have faced criticism in recent years for censoring various applications on its iPhones and iPads for what the company has deemed inappropriate content. Critics say it could lead to other, more pervasive kinds of censorship.

What do you think? Do you want "freedom from porn"? Do you think Apple, or any other computer/device maker, should be able to censor content, such as images or stories? Do you think this kind of censorship could lead to more severe forms of censorship? 

Then again, do you think it's Apple's -- or any other device maker's -- right as a business to determine what kind of content can appear on its devices? 

Let the debate begin!

UPDATE: This item is tangentially related to this topic as another example of how Apple could be perceived as trying to influence consumer behavior. A woman in California was not permitted to pay cash for an iPad:

The company only pointed to their purchase policy. It says there is a limit of two iPads per customer and you must pay by credit or debit card. Gift cards will not work either. Apple did not respond to a 7 On Your Side request for an explanation of the policy, however, the store clerk told Campbell it was to prevent con artists from buying lots of iPads selling them overseas.

Tech blog Valleywag says credit cards help Apple track per-person sales of the device.

(Disclosure: I own an iPhone, an iPod and an iMac desktop computer.)

Photo illustration by Dan Milczarski


  1. Okay, this is a tough one for me. I'm against censorship for the most part. I do wish we could balance out hate speech versus everything else, but cest la vie.

    Okay, so I think it is Jobs' perogrative to limit the type of Apps on his platforms. I don't think it's in his right to block what sites people visits, though. If someone is traveling and wants to watch a stag flick on their iPhone/iPad in the privacy of their hotel room, then so be it! Hell, with a Macbook that has a DVD drive a person could watch porn on it. So what's the difference?

    My reccomendation, though, would be to make adult apps available at a premium price (more profit to Apple), add an extra layer of security to ensure age of buyer and put restrictions on how to access once on the iPhone or iPad (password protect). Then with the extra money made from those Apps, Jobs can lead whatever moral crusade he wants against porn.

    You know, I've read the email between Jobs and Gawker guy a few times and I originally thought Jobs was saying "freedom from porn" as freedom from porn pop-ups and hackers/spyware, etc. I guess I missed the true argument about the Apps.

  2. My computer was down for a couple months, and I'm not ashamed to say, was visited frequently on my iphone. You take away that freedom from me, you might as well chop off my hand.

    I agree, put whatever kind of limit you want on the apps, but I don't think its right to block websites.

  3. the computer makers have no right to censor anything. it's going against our freedom of choice. if America didn't love porn then there wouldn't be so much of it out there, so Mr. Jobs needs to stop pretending that the buyers of his products are above such a thing. now, I do feel that a kid-friendly line of computers which is censored would be a great idea. make them fun and colorful and focused on educational gaming and silly videos and that shit, all the while censoring adult material.

  4. Let's be careful with how we label things. I think we're stretching "censorship" just a bit, and that's quite serious and potentially harmful. At this rate, you might as well accuse someone you've never met and who has never seen your movie of plagiarism just because you had an idea before he did.

    The fact is Apple can limit their products in any way they please. The iPad is a pretty awesome technology, but if online access to porn is important to you, no one is making you buy an iPad. Sure, there are a lot of possibilities - porn-related or otherwise - with this new technology, but if Apple feels like it is in their best interest to not explore or allow others to pursue those opportunities with their technology, that's their choice.

    It could be because of pop-ups or hackers/spyware, or it could be because they are trying to appeal to an audience that wants to be "free from porn." It really doesn't matter. They don't need to justify themselves.

    You want to see boobies? Buy a Dell. Our human urges may never go away, but that's ok because there will always be companies to meet those needs.

    That's freedom. That's America. Get some.

  5. @ Eddie - has someone recently accused someone they never met of plagiarizing a movie they made? Odd coincidence (though, per Mike via Glen Beck, there are coincidences) is that I recently came across a movie from this guy I went to college with, who still talks to and hangs out with a friend of mine from school who actually co-starred in my movie a few years back, and this movie did have a similar concept as mine. And when I posted a tagline from my movie on Facebook, I did get accused of claiming plagiarism. Very weird coincidence, right?

    And yes, if the creators of the Mac (iPhone, iPad, etc.) blocked users from going to websites (not talking about Apps, here), it's censorship. It could set a precedent for all other platforms to do it. First porn sties then what other sites get blocked? CNN? Gawker?

    Legal Dictionary
    Main Entry: cen·sor
    Function: transitive verb
    : to examine (as a publication or film) in order to suppress or delete any contents considered objectionable
    Main Entry: censor
    Function: transitive verb
    Inflected Form(s): cen·sored; cen·sor·ing \ˈsen(t)-sə-riŋ, ˈsen(t)s-riŋ\
    Date: 1882
    : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable
    "Then came Bild, a large daily newspaper printed by publishing powerhouse Axel Springer AG. Bild also distributes its content through a dedicated iPhone application. This app gives access to its sections from a central springboard. Last December, they released a new mini-app called Bild-Girl, which shows a woman moaning and getting rid of her clothes every time you shake the iPhone with your free hand.

    "Apple didn't take that well and asked Bild to put a bikini on the girl. Bild complied. But now Apple also wants Bild to censor the naked girl that comes in the PDF version of the printed newspaper, which is accessible from the Bild application too. Apple is trying to force them into censoring their publication, even while the women are pre-emptively censored: Their nipples are pixelated and unrecognizable in the iPhone-distributed PDF document."

  7. @Dan - I was more making fun of the objection to your objection, but really didn't know the details... just found the seriousness of it amusing.

    @Mike - I would encourage Bild to make their app available on the BlackBerry and Droid. And while this can be considered censorship, we have to be careful not to claim Apple is somehow infringing on our rights.

    You are free to look at boobies, and free to decide not to use Apple's devices if they won't show you boobies.

  8. @Eddie - The entire situation is pretty fucking hilarious. It's like the word plagiarism can't be said it jest. I was almost like, "Shit, did I just say the N word?" Lord knows I've been in a situation where I jump to conclusions without asking proper questions/doing proper research, but I try to remember back to my days at the Gothic Times as a journalist of sorts and take a step back to get the facts.

    And to be clear here, you are saying Jobs should block Apps if he wants but agree that if his devices chose websites to block, that would be censorship.

  9. @Eddie: Rights, Part I

    Apple sure is infringing upon my rights. It's one thing to have rigorous programming standards for quality control purposes. That's one of the reasons I use Apple products. They demand the best from their suppliers, and their products rarely crash and are rarely compromised by viruses. But once you begin to dictate to me, a loyal Apple customer and an adult, what editorial content I can look at on their products, that's a direct limit on my freedom. Once I purchase the product they no longer own it. I should be able to look at any content I want, (be it boobies, political cartoons, or fashion magazines) provided it's not illegal.

    Sure, you can look at the App Store like, say, Wal-Mart, another notorious censor of content. But I can always buy my hardcore rap CDs and death metal CDs through Amazon or at a Best Buy. I don't have that luxury on my iPhone. I have to buy my Apps through Apple's store. You say I could easily go buy another type of phone or tablet computer, etc., but I don't want to. I want the best. I want Apple.

    Which leads to me another concern. I'm really concerned for the Apple brand. If Steve Jobs continues down the path of overtly trying to influence consumer behavior (see my update above), it's going to damage consumer demand for their products over time. Frankly, I want Apple to thrive, to continue making the best personal electronic devices and computers.

  10. @Eddie: Rights, Part II

    I'm not only concerned that Apple's infringing upon mine and other consumers' rights. They're taking aim at independent suppliers' content. Check out that link from my comment above. They're forcing them to clean up their content beyond the apps. Seriously, who the fuck do they think they are?

    Again, if Apple wants to impose strict formatting, coding and programming standards upon suppliers and developers, fine. That's quality control. Developers should have to work harder to earn a spot on the preeminent electronic platform.

    But there's also a double standard at work here. On iTunes, I can buy any number of sexually or violently explicit songs, songs that would make that German newspaper's editors blush. But that's because Apple, when it created iTunes, was entering a previously existing market (music). They revolutionized the way we buy and listen to songs, but they're not trying to prevent me from owning "My Neck, My Back" by either Khia or Richard Cheese. Go ahead, look up the lyrics. You're going to tell me that a nip slip in a fashion shoot is worse than that?

    Apple has essentially created the market for apps, though, and they're using their market dominance as a way to make the rules from a moral standpoint. That's bullying, anti-competitive and it could also be bad for business. Why discourage suppliers from working with you?

  11. @Mike - you may not think it's a good business idea, but Steve Jobs disagrees. And by continuing to buy his products you're not exactly making your point.

    @Dan - I don't see a difference between apps and websites - they're both used to access content. I can understand users who want access to more - I am severely limited in what I can access on my BlackBerry, but that's my own fault for choosing this over an iPhone. But I also can't fault Apple - most of the viruses I've gotten came from adult sites. As long as people continue to support their products, there's no reason for them to do otherwise.

  12. @Mike - you may not think it's a good business idea, but Steve Jobs disagrees. And by continuing to buy his products you're not exactly making your point.

    @Dan - I don't see a difference between apps and websites - they're both used to access content. I can understand users who want access to more - I am severely limited in what I can access on my BlackBerry, but that's my own fault for choosing this over an iPhone. But I also can't fault Apple - most of the viruses I've gotten came from adult sites.

  13. @Eddie: That's true. I do keep buying Apple stuff because it's awesome. But eventually the competition is going to catch up, or Jobs' hubris is going to get the better of him. In that respect, I agree with you that I'm glad we still have some semblance of competition in our market. So, if Apple's competitors rise to the occasion, and offer good products free from censorship, you can bet your bippy that Jobs' corporate fascism will end up being bad for business.

    However, I'm afraid that if this doesn't go unchecked now, you'll see OTHER device makers follow suit with their own unique kinds of censorship. That's my concern. "Hey, if Apple's doing it, why can't we?"

    Also, regarding the difference between apps and websites: Yes, they're both for delivering content. In fact, Apple is spearheading the movement toward a more app-centric mode of accessing content rather than a web-centric one. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I'd still like to have access to the relatively free-wielding world of the Web itself.

    But your argument about most of your viruses coming from adult sites is mooted when we talk about apps, particularly apps for Apple products. Apple's rigorous quality controls on the apps sold in its store prevent these kinds of things from happening. I'm very much in favor of Apple's quality-control policies as it pertains to the actual construction and function of the apps. It's the content censorship that riles me up. How exactly is seeing a nipple in a fashion spread going to give me a virus? How would a pornography app, if it has passed Apple's quality control system, infect my device? If people want to look at porn or nudie pictures, why not let them do it with products that won't ruin their computers or devices? If anything, that would create more business for them.

  14. You know, it surprises me greatly that this doesn’t bother me. I don’t see it as a matter of censorship per se. No one criticizes radio stations for refraining to play profanity. This isn’t about porn. It’s about porn in public. The Ipad exists to be able to go online in public…in airports and restaurants and train stations.

    If access was restricted on home computers, of course I would be against it. But that isn’t the case here. This is in place so I can sit at Starbucks or ride the bus without having to witness other people’s fetishes.

    I think they drew an acceptable line here. Laptops and desktops aren’t affected by this.

    And, by the way, I am in no way anti-porn.

  15. @Erin: Here's the thing, though. People can still access porn on the iPad or iPhone through Safari. So I can still access Fleshbot on my iPod when I'm killing time at Starbucks before work. Not sure why I'd want to do that, though, but that's just me. So, why get upset at Jobs and Co. censoring apps? Because that's the direction they want to go: app-centric. If they can create the means of access for consumers, they think, they can start to create the standards for the content. That's what worries me.

    And what about the people that want an iPad instead of having a laptop or a desktop PC? The iPad would be their home computer. Surely they should be able to access porn or any other "controversial" content on a device they paid for in the privacy of their own home.

  16. First, anyone with an iPad in lieu of an actual computer is an idiot, and I have no sympathy for them.

    I didn't realize we were talking apps vs. content. So you can still download all the legal porn you want, but they want to limit the apps? Then this is even less of an issue? I'm surprised they allow user-created apps to begin with.

    IMO this is still no different than a tv or radio station deciding what content they want to show.

  17. This is why I never comment--I hit post and remember what I meant to say.

    All those arguments aside, I think the real reason behind this is that Apple cannot monitor every single app that comes out, and it does not want to held responsible when some douchebag creates a kiddie-porn app or something equally damaging.


Go ahead, say something.