Apple (AAPL) works pretty hard to avoid controversy in the “walled garden” environment of its iTunes App Store. Nothing especially lewd or racy is allowed in, for example, and Apple sets the standards of when a thing is too violent, too disgusting, or too much of whatever it is Apple kicks apps out of the gate for being.
Not currently on the list of things an app can’t be, however, is anti-gay, or at least that’s what some activists and protesters are saying about a certain app that has been available to download free since Feb. 15. Exodus International, a Christian group that claims to “cure” homosexuals of their homsexuality, released the app of the same name last month to the outrage of many.
The app doesn’t necessarily purport to do the same, but it does provide information about events, stream video and podcasts and provide blog entries about the issue, all with a stance that homosexuality is wrong and that gay people need to be changed. The app has made quite a few people, including gay rights groups, very angry. A story in The Atlantic reports that 90,000 people have already virtually signed a petition on Change.org demanding that Apple remove the app.
The problem as activists see it isn’t necessarily that the Exodus International app exsits, but more that Apple approved it for entry into the App Store. According to a story from the Huffington Post, Apple gave the app a “4” during its screening process, identifying it as one that contains “no objectionable material.”
And while the app might not be lewd or openly using extremely hateful language, there are certainly people who find its content objectionable, as well as the fact that Apple didn’t. And despite the pretty major outcry, Apple remains mum on the issue and the app remains available, despite being bombarded with negative user ratings. Of the app’s 897 reviews, 629 of them are negative, leaving the app a single star and decrying its message. However, of the remaining 268 reviews, 241 of them gave the app four stars out of a possible four.
It would be almost remarkable if Apple did decide to comment on the situation, because it so rarely does whenever there’s any sort of controversy at all surrounding its products. But it also doesn’t seem to be doing anything about concerns or taking a stance one way or the other on whether Exodus’ app should remain in the App Store. Usually, though, Apple opts to avoid controversy by quietly making these things go away -- it’s almost surprising that the Exodus International app remains in the App Store more than a month after its release.
Back in December when the government document-leaking website Wikileaks was in the news and receiving pressure from hackers and having various companies refuse to work with it, Apple quietly made an app related to the site (but not created by it), Wikileaks App, vanish amid the controversy. This happened seemingly without any pressure coming Apple’s way at all, and it still isn’t clear what made Apple remove it. It’s possible that the app’s $1.99 download fee irked Apple when the Wikileaks App wasn’t even affiliated with the website whose information it was selling, but the fact is, often a strong wind is enough to get an app thrown out of the App Store.
So why no motion on Exodus International’s app? For many protesters, every day that the app remains in the App Store is an admission from Apple that it supports Exodus’ message, whether that’s true or not. This is one of those cases in which Apple ought to take a firm stance and have a clear message about what is and what isn’t allowed in its garden, before the controversy gets out of hand and it loses a large number of customers to bigotry, whether real or perceived.