Apple has always been a bit of a black box when it comes to allowing, or banning, third-party apps for its iOS App Store. The company's murky policies have often drawn criticism and even accusations of censorship.
No app has been a better example of Apple's strange and borderline dumb policing of the App Store as an app that tracks US drone strikes around the world. The app, which was originally called Drones+ and launched in 2012 by Josh Begley, a data artist who now works at The Intercept, has been removed from the app store thirteen times—most recently today.
On Tuesday, Begley celebrated the fact that after twelve rejections, Metadata, the new name of his drone strike-tracking app was back in the Apple App Store. But the celebration lasted only a few hours. Just this afternoon, Begley tweeted a screenshot of his iPhone, informing him that Metadata had been removed for download once again.
It's unclear why Apple thinks Begley's app doesn't deserve to be in the App Store. The app is as simple, and innocuous, as it gets. There's no graphic content. The app consists simply of a world map, with pins indicating the location of US drone strikes, culled from news reports. Again: no pictures, no videos, no violence, no political content. Nothing.
In the past, Apple justified its decision saying the content of the app was "excessively objectionable or crude." At some point, during a phone conversation, an Apple employee told him that the app could not just be about US drone strikes, according to what Begley told me at the time.
Unsurprisingly, Apple did not respond to a request for comment. But hopefully one day the company will explain why an app that's perhaps a bit boring, but totally harmless, can't be in the App Store while other apps such as a video game that simulates American drone strikes against terrorists—which, remember, kill more civilians than terrorists—is still available.
Until then, we'll only be able to guess, while others accuse the company of unnecessary censorship.
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