Compare these two covers. On the left, Spanish science magazine Muy Interesante has an article titled "Myths and Truths About the Penis". On the right, your typical Cosmopolitan smut, from "50 Kinky Sex Moves" to "Your Other G-Spot."
Both magazines are rated "12+" (12 years old or older) in Apple's Newsstand. Yet only the one with the scientific article about penises has been censored by Apple this month. Why?
Because, according to Apple, it's against the company's content guidelines.
When Muy Interestante (Very Interesting) submitted the issue, Apple sent back an email turning it down, alleging that the magazine content was inappropriate for its age rating. The same age rating it shares with Cosmopolitan.
We have completed the revision of your attachments but we can't publish them in the App Store because its category ["12 years old or up"] doesn't correspond with its content. It doesn't comply with the App Store's guidelines:
3.8. Developers are responsible to assign a category for their apps. Apple can change inappropriate categories.
Since your application contains suggestive adult themes, this should be reflected in your category.
Why a science magazine should be rated 16+ or 18+ while 50 Kinky Sex Moves—voted by men!—is perfectly fine for 12+ is a mystery. It just looks like Apple's censorship corps doesn't have any problem with 12 year olds learning about kinky sex and g-spots but do have problems with 12 year olds reading science facts about dicks.
The magazine has already submitted a new cover, in which they have switched "Truths and Myths About the Penis" to "Truths and Myths About That Outstanding Member," which would be hilarious if Apple's actions weren't so stupid and pathetic to begin with. There has been no answer from Apple yet.
Apple doesn't like penises
This is not the first time Apple has had a problem with male genitalia or masculine nudity. In June 2010, following the elimination of an erotic graphic novel based on James Joyce's Ulysses from the App Store, Apple censored Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest because it showed two naked men kissing. Likewise, they censored apps showing men in tight swimsuits while allowing apps showing women in tiny bikinis.
And sure, it's not only about penises. They have a problem with bare breasts too. Or at least, Madonna's nipples.
But I digress. This is not about specific cases. This is about the same stupid and arbitrary Apple censorship that happens every day at the App Store, including plenty of cases we never even hear about.
Censorship is bad, period
The whole censorship machinery still doesn't make sense. Not in its current state, because Apple's arbitrary policies—set in the anti-"porn" Jobs era—clearly don't work when these instances still happen.
The fact is that you can't create a nebulous set of rules and then expect your minions to enforce whatever the hell they want to enforce, based on their arbitrary judgement or phobias.
This new episode shows, once again, that Bild Digital's CEO Donata Hopfen was right back in 2010: "Today they censor nipples, tomorrow editorial content."
And I'm afraid that this is what we get when we have one company dominating a new computing platform and using arbitrary judgement decide want content gets to go in its "newsstand". This is the reason why I want Android tablets, Amazon's Fire, and Microsoft tablets to thrive, so we—the market—can stop this nonsense. Apple apparently doesn't want a clear set of rules and categories that would allow any content to exist in their platform.
Perhaps Apple's Tim Cook will read about this, pick up the phone and personally smack the idiot who did it. I like to think that, but not as much as I like thinking about him changing his company's policies. Not because some of their censors may be perceived as prudish (don't touch your penis!) while others don't give a damn about obvious sexual content reaching minors (here are 50 kinky moves to make that penis hard!) but because content should flow free in any medium.