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Apple VP Phil Schiller Clears Up Ninjawords App Store Confusion

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.

5 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

geoduck said:

the developer decided to do that themselves in order to get to market faster

That makes more sense. I’m glad Schiller clarified what was going on.

   Quote

dave said:

Actually, what Phil wrote doesn’t make sense.  Or he’s trying to spin the issue like mad.

First, to say that the developer should have just waited for the 17+ rating to become available, so he could release an ‘uncensored’ version is being disingenuous, because Apple wouldn’t tell him WHEN it would become available (perhaps other than sometime soon).  Meanwhile, his competition, which also was uncensored (according to Phil), and with much lower ratings, was already in the app store being sold.

Second, Phil’s claim that it rejected because of new ‘urban slang’ swear words, and not regular swear words doesn’t seem to match with the specific examples the developer claims the App Store reviewer sent him, namely screen shots with words like ‘fuck’.

   Quote

Walt French said:

My gripe with the Apple rating system is that now I’m getting these “adult” alerts when I update multiple apps, and there’s no indication which app I should invoke for my titillation.

Alas, anything that can see the “real internet” seems to be verboten and this becomes mindless—like those stupid EULAs that only the paranoid read. If Apple thinks some customers need protection for their over-libidinous teens, they should supply a systemic control and only flag apps that supply the racy stuff independently of browsing.

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dennis said:

So now you have to be 17 years old to read naughty words in a dictionary? I suppose the reasoning is if a 10-year-old reads the word ‘fuck’ she’s going to go out and do it?

   Quote

Bosco (Brad Hutchings) said:

I love how Schiller gets his panties in a bunch over “urban slang”. I used to think he had the perfect job for his last name. But now, he might have to change his name to “Phil Cracker”.

   Quote

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