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Apple VP Phil Schiller Clears Up Ninjawords App Store Confusion
Thursday, August 6th, 2009 at 5:43 PM - by Bryan Chaffin
Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller has responded to a recent kerfuffle that erupted when Daring Fireball's John Gruber reported that Apple's App Store team had rejected an iPhone app called Ninjawords for containing common swear words, and furthermore that Apple required the dictionary to be censored. According to a letter Mr. Schiller wrote to Daring Fireball, this wasn't the case.
Coming as part of an ongoing stream of confusion, inconsistency, and simple ignorance as part of the App Store approval process, such a seemingly arbitrary rejection set off yet another (mild) firestorm of controversy as people reacted negatively to the idea that Apple would censor a dictionary, especially when other App Store dictionaries were not similarly censored.
When Mr. Schiller saw Daring Fireball's coverage of the situation, he said in his letter that he looked into it. According to the executive, the issue with Ninjawords wasn't an issue with censoring common swear words, but rather that Apple wanted the developers to wait until parental controls were introduced in iPhone OS 3.0 so that the app could get a 17+ rating.
The reality, according to both Mr. Schiller and a follow up piece from Daring Fireball, is that Ninjawords' developer Matchstick Software decided to self-censor the app in an effort to get the app out sooner, rather than later, and that when the app was first submitted in May, iPhone OS 3.0 had no definitive date.
"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," Mr. Schiller wrote. "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+."
His letter, which you can read in full at Daring Fireball, marks one of the first times that an Apple executive has responded publicly and directly to a controversy surrounding App Store approval. Apple, a company that counts secrecy among its primary weapons, has heretofore been loathe to reveal specifics about the approval process, though many rejections and approvals have been reversed after a media and/or public outcry.
Whether this remains an aberration or reflects a policy shift of more openness for the App Store and its approval process remains to be seen.
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