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Apple snips Nine Inch Nails app

Censorship and The Downward Spiral

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Apple has once again proven the absurdity of its App Store product-approval process by rejecting an app from Nine Inch Nails because of its "objectionable content."

Apple didn't decline the update to nin: access (iTunes link) because it has a problem with multi-instrumentalist and producer Trent Reznor's songwriting talents. Its lunacy goes much deeper than that.

First, the song to which Apple specifically objected - "The Downward Spiral" - isn't even in the app. Instead, a podcast of it can be downloaded by using nin: access.

Following that logic, of course, Apple should disallow Safari, seeing as how the iPhone's browser can be used to download steaming heaps of sweaty porn.

Second, the song from which Apple's preservers of probity is protecting us is available (iTunes link) in the iTunes Store.

Third, the lyrics to "The Downward Spiral," while not exactly replete with images of smiling moppets chasing bunnies and butterflies, contain exactly one word that could qualify as objectionable.

Yes, the proverbial f-bomb. In gerund form, to be specific.

Reznor is not amused. In a post on the Nine Inch Nails fan forum excoriating Apple's decision, he writes:

I'll voice the same issue I had with Wal-Mart years ago, which is a matter of consistency and hypocrisy. Wal-Mart went on a rampage years ago insisting all music they carry be censored of all profanity and "clean" versions be made for them to carry. Bands (including Nirvana) tripped over themselves editing out words, changing album art, etc to meet Wal-Mart's standards of decency - because Wal-Mart sells a lot of records. NIN refused, and you'll notice a pretty empty NIN section at any Wal-Mart. My reasoning was this: I can understand if you want the moral posturing of not having any "indecent" material for sale - but you could literally turn around 180 degrees from where the NIN record would be and purchase the film "Scarface" completely uncensored, or buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto where you can be rewarded for beating up prostitutes. How does that make sense?

In a related post, many pages later in the lively forum discussion about the topic, he adds that despite Cupertino's app-approval flakiness, he remains an Apple fan:

I love Apple products and as goofy and out-of-touch as their app approval process / policy is, I will still use them because they work 1000X better than the competition. This is not a debate, it's a fact. The iPhone is THE most elegant, modern smartphone at this point in time and it's perfect for what we want to do with the NIN app - except for the ludicrous approval process, and that's what I want to draw attention to.
Android is cool, but nobody has an Android phone. Blackberry is OK but the hardware is inconsistent and WinMo straight-up sucks balls. If Apple doesn't get it together, we will most certainly make [nin: access] available to the jailbreak community.

While it's possible to disagree with Reznor's evaluation of mobile-communication platforms, it's hard to argue with his assessment of Apple's "ludicrous approval process."

Apple's guardians of decency allow real bouncing Bulgarian airbags, but not cartoons of them. Last month, Apple temporarily rejected Twitter-reader Tweetie, not because of anything in the app itself, but because it could be used to view off-color Tweets. A South Park app is rejectable, but the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (iTunes link) is a welcome revenue producer.

And, of course, the App Store's famous flatulence goes on apace: As of this morning, a search for "fart" turns up 271 examples of exquisite taste.

The odd thing is that Apple has solved the "objectionable content" challenge on the music side of its online moneymaker. There, Rick Ross can sing in "Rich Off Cocaine" (iTunes link) about how his lady friend is hankering for non-traditional coitus - as long as his observations are labeled as Explicit.

There's also a solution in the App Store's games area, where shoot-'em-ups such as "Brothers in Arms" (iTunes link) receive age-appropriate ratings that warn away the faint of heart.

Perhaps Apple could extend its rating policy. Perhaps it could extend iTunes' parental controls from movies, TV, and games to apps as a whole.

But we won't take it upon ourselves to suggest to Apple exactly how it might improve its handling of a broad range of content. We will, however, allow Trent Reznor the final word by quoting his suggestion to Apple: "For fuck's sake get your app approval scenario together." ®

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