Rule 34: “If It Exists, It Has Porn on It.”

February 7, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013 by Lauren Powers
Some of Apple’s recent actions regarding apps on its App Store have called into question the role of various app store platforms in regulating web content.  First, following Twitter’s highly popular release of Vine, an app designed to allow users to upload six-second looping video clips, risqué content surfaced in the app’s “Editor’s Picks” section, causing Apple to quickly remove Vine from its own “Editor’s Choice” section in the App Store.  Before the Vine incident Apple had already removed another app called 500px, which was designed to permit users to upload and share photos, because it too easily facilitated user access of pornographic and other sexually explicit images.  Apple carefully polices its apps based on Steve Jobs’ philosophy of providing “(f)reedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn.”

The main issue with Apple and other platform’s censorship of web content lies in the fact that private corporations have been given the power to determine what is and is not acceptable speech found on the Internet.

Other app platforms like Google (Google Play), Android, Microsoft, Blackberry, and Amazon are typically less strict about policing their app marketplaces than Apple but are still finding it necessary to exert some degree of control.  For example, Google and Android allow apps from other platforms’ stores to be loaded onto Google or Android devices.  However, permitting that degree of flexibility can legitimately pose some of the problems that Steve Jobs recognized and chose to eliminate in his App Store.
The main issue with Apple and other platform’s censorship of web content lies in the fact that private corporations have been given the power to determine what is and is not acceptable speech found on the Internet.  These corporations have acquired this control through the American dependence on mobile technology resulting from the rise in available smartphone options and the constant development of new apps.  In fact, forty-five percent of people in the United States reported owning a smart phone last year.  Furthermore, over one hundred million people worldwide own an iPad.  Naturally, these statistics do not even include the large remaining portion of the population that uses tablets and other similar devices.  Ultimately, these corporations have enacted their respective policies regarding inappropriate web content in a good faith effort to protect their consumers from finding distasteful content through their apps.
However, the question is essentially a First Amendment one as to whether people have a right to either accidentally or purposefully access offensive content on their mobile devices via these apps.  To take it a step further, these corporations are asserting control over the First Amendment rights of both app developers and their consumers, a task typically best left to the federal government.  While many consumers likely appreciate not being subjected to accidental discoveries of sexually explicit materials, others likely resent that they are not able to engage in such activities when the necessary apps are removed from a corporation’s app store.  Ultimately, while no major litigation has resulted from this striking battle between freedom of speech and freedom to be protected from speech, it seems that such litigation is not only likely in the future but rapidly approaching.