So Apple Bans Girls In Bikinis, But A Shirtless Gay Dude Washing A Car Is OK?

Apple has banned sexy apps. But apps from Playboy and Sports Illustrated remain. Why does Apple care what turns me on?

If you need another example of why the iTunes App Store's walled garden is flawed, Apple has been only too happy to oblige, capriciously and arbitrarily removing an unknown number of "sexy" apps without warning. All that's missing to complete the metaphor is a flaming sword.

Some of those apps were certainly garbage, but it seems most were simply slideshows of women in various states of undress.

Jenna Wortham, writing for The Times, quotes Apple's Phil Schiller: "It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see."

By Apple's own count, there are over 130,000 apps in the App Store. With a selection that varied, I'm sure there's something to offend everyone.

How about an app that discusses abortion and birth control law? Maybe an app that helps you hook up with gay guys? How about an app that teaches you how to evangelize the fundamentalist Christian religion?

Think about that last one for second and the furor that would erupt if Apple made a sweeping ban of religious apps from the App Store. I am not a Christian. I would be concerned if my child were discovering religion before I'd gotten a chance to talk to them about it. (Especially since that would mean I had given birth to a baby without a mother, completing—if adventitiously—my dream to be the Male Madonna.)

Yet I wouldn't blame Apple for letting the app be sold, just like I wouldn't complain that I found it morally offensive, its existence alone threatening and insulting. And to be clear, I've got absolutely no problem with the "Grindr" app pictured here being on the app store. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em. It's simply a great example to highlight how subjective Apple's ban has been. That image is right there on its App Store page.

Look, we know censorship is wrong. We've been having this conversation as a society for a couple hundred years, and if you haven't learned by now that freedom of speech negates freedom from offense, there's nothing I can do to convince you except renew your subscription to Hustler.

The issue at hand is that Apple doesn't have to abide by the laws we've put in place in our society because the App Store is part of its business. Often I feel like that's a good thing—or at least fair dinkum. They built it; they get to run it.

With a closed ecosystem comes a lot of responsibility. Apple has taken on the heavy mantle of arbiter, ostensibly to manage quality. I can forgive them for that, even if I don't like it. But the only reason to ban blue apps is taste. And if these apps were a matter of taste, why were they approved in the first place? What will the next set of apps be that Apple decides are inappropriate long after people have spent hundreds of hours creating and marketing them? Ban apps because they're poorly designed—not because they're simply sexual.

Apple is making a moral judgement, declaring that nudity and titillation is something that should made hidden and shameful. It's disappointing that a company so publicly supportive of progressive sexual rights would react so orthodoxly.

Actually, it's worse than that. Apple is trying to take the easy way out, talking about degradation of women and the innocence of children, but allowing content from established brands—brands that exhibit sexual material meant to arouse—simply because they're well known and thus "safe". Apple is aping the sexual posturing of conservative American society, defining what expressions of sexuality are acceptable to even acknowledge.

Sure, there's still plenty of smut out there on the internet, readily accessible through the iPhone's Safari web browser. That's not the point.

Apple has made a declaration: that sex and sexuality are shameful, even for adults. But only sometimes. And only when people complain.

Unfortunately, they've accomplished the opposite. The only thing I'm ashamed of is Apple.