Apple: No, we didn't censor an iPhone dictionary
It takes a lot to get Apple to make a statement to the public, but the ongoing controversy related to the company's App Store review policy has come to such an agitated peak that Apple has repeatedly been forced to explain itself.
Yesterday, Senior Vice President Phil Schiller had to make a stand against allegations of downright censorship by the blogosphere.
The issue at hand was an iPhone dictionary app called Ninjawords which was rejected from the App Store on the grounds that it contained overly vulgar "urban slang" which Apple's review team worried would be offensive.
Responding to the blogosphere's accusation that Apple demanded the app be both filtered and carry a 17+ parental control rating, Phil Schiller wrote to Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber, saying:
"The issue that the App Store reviewers did find with the Ninjawords application is that it provided access to other more vulgar terms than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, words that many reasonable people might find upsetting or objectionable. A quick search on Wiktionary.org easily turns up a number of offensive "urban slang" terms that you won't find in popular dictionaries such as one that you referenced, the New Oxford American Dictionary included in Mac OS X. Apple rejected the initial submission of Ninjawords for this reason, provided the Ninjawords developer with information about some of the vulgar terms, and suggested to the developer that they resubmit the application for approval once parental controls were implemented on the iPhone.
The Ninjawords developer then decided to filter some offensive terms in the Ninjawords application and resubmit it for approval for distribution in the App Store before parental controls were implemented. Apple did not ask the developer to censor any content in Ninjawords, the developer decided to do that themselves in order to get to market faster. Even though the developer chose to censor some terms, there still remained enough vulgar terms that it required a parental control rating of 17+."
Apple did not ask the developer to censor any content...it just suggested he resubmit the app once parental controls were in place, at which point it would be flagged with a rating that would block the app from kids anyway.
Schiller does manage to mostly free Apple from blame in this situation, but pointing the finger at the bad guy here is less important than the fact that the information contained within Ninjawords, however vulgar or offensive, remains the hapless victim. And whenever information is stifled, you can expect the Internet to come looking for a way to set it free.
It was the media storm which brought the FCC to Apple's door, and it was the blog storm that brought Schiller to the podium.