Image: Trent Reznor
Sean Gardner  /  Getty Images file
Apple's incongruous rejection of the Nine Inch Nails iPhone app update makes Trent Reznor all sappy and nostalgic for Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center, when music was censored by the government, and not godless corporations. Unless you count Wal-mart.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 5/7/2009 9:17:48 AM ET 2009-05-07T13:17:48

Hey, kids! Thinkin’ about striking it rich with your own super genius iPhone app?

Don’t forget to review that dense legalese of your Apple Software Development Kit agreement that translates roughly as, “Apple will kill your iPhone app if it a) doesn’t work; b) sucks; c) says (but not necessarily shows) “boobies”; d) competes against whatever Apple might could maybe feel like doing in the future; e) just cuz. And oh, up until recently, simulating violence against a baby was A:OK.

Yeah, pretty much don’t count on Apple switching over to logical, standardized and transparent rules anytime soon, app millionaires of the future. What are you gonna do — kick your iPhone to the curb? Yeah, neither will anyone else. Still, it is worth noting that the masses — and rock stars — will get mad about it.

These very same all-encompassing (and weirdly subjective) App Store restrictions drew the attention of the masses with the App Store’s approval of the “ Baby Shaker ” game, and didn’t yank it until public outrage ensued.

Less than a week later, the App Store drew the ire of tech-savvy Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) when it nixed his NIN app update because of the cuss-word inclusive “The Downward Spiral,” an LP nobody’s been outraged about since the early ‘90s.

So let’s review: Simulated baby violence — we're cool. Using the f word, no can do.

Now, it’s Apple’s candy store and the company can jerk would-be developers and customers alike with its opaque and incomprehensible app submission disclaimer. But when Apple randomly refuses art (i.e. the NIN app update), well that’s just censorship. Plus stupid. 

How is it Apple, the innovation wonder that brought us the iPod, the iMac, the MacBook, that one you can stick in an envelope, and the game-changing iPhone, runs its App Store like an unsupervised intern? (No offense, Facebook.) 

In a rant that would never pass the App Store’s muster (or maybe it would, one can never know), Reznor shared this on the Nine Inch Nails forum (the blue portions have been cartoonized to protect the children):

“You can buy The Downward @!#%$*%  Spiral on iTunes, but you can't allow an iPhone app that may have a song with a bad word somewhere in it. Geez, what if someone in the forum in our app says!!%$ or *&%#%? I suppose that also falls into indecent material. Hey Apple, I just got some SPAM about @!%$ hot asian teens THROUGH YOUR MAIL PROGRAM. I just saw two guys having explicit &!%$ sex right there in Safari! On my iPhone!”

Offensive iPhone apps

Just so we’re clear, the NIN isn’t your average app. It pretty much occupies its own dimension. The app is built around a spooky-intuitive interface, and features a trove of content by both Reznor and fans, including concert sounds and images generated in real time. There's also a forum with a GPS system so you can locate NIN fans near you — as close as the concert arena floor.

The NIN iPhone app is so complex and engaging, Digg’s Kevin Rose had to explain it to us hu-mons in a video so we wouldn’t freak out or something.

So yeah, Reznor raises some pretty good questions. In a brief telephone conversation, an Apple spokesperson would not comment on anything regarding the NIN app. That’s not a big shock as Apple is notoriously “no comment” on specifically what it will or won’t accept in its App Store or why. Two weeks ago, when public outrage seemed to cause Apple to yank “Baby Shaker,” the company would not comment on how that “game” made it through the review process in the first place. (Technotica valiantly attempted,  and ultimately failed, to reach Reznor for comment.)

To review, section 3.3.12 of the company’s Software Development Kit agreement blathers that programs “must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind - or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

Still, if you’re in the market for tasteless and objectionable, the App Store still has plenty to offer among its more than 35,000 applications. Suzanne Choney wrote about several in the msnbc.com interactive, “ Offensive iPhone apps.”  For instance, there’s “iRevolver,” which makes realistic sound of a firing gun. (Try this one around the cops, kids!)

Then there’s “Wobble” in which you shake photographic images of various ladies and gentleman to make their … um … parts bounce. (Hey, at least they don’t die!) Meanwhile, “iBoobs,” a similar game featuring a computer simulation of swaying breasts, didn’t make it through section 3.3.12, Go figure.

A lot of pixels have been spilled over how the artists suffer from censorship on account of we're a bunch of spoiled First Amendment personal rights crybabies. But you don’t a see a ton written about how the audience loses out when we’re denied access to a diverse marketplace.

The First Amendment wasn't intended entirely for the benefit of individuals who want to yap away about crap. It's also meant to improve the quality of discourse, and consequently the quality of society’s choices and ideas.

Yes yes rocket scholars, this only mandatory for the government. But this is also how an open market benefits software and software-powered hardware — and most any idea-based product.

For all its issues with Microsoft’s PC exclusivity back in the day, Apple certainly keeps a proprietary death grip on its marketplace. The makers of the nerd-labled “Jesus Phone” drone on about how they do it for quality control so you don’t download something hinky that up and breaks your precious iPhone. Fair enough. But the word “boobs” isn’t going to break my phone — plus it’s fun to say. (Disclaimer: msnbc.com is half owned by Microsoft and half owned by NBC Universal. You knew that, right?)

“Oh but what about the children?!” Apple recently announced enhanced parental controls to premiere with the release of iPhone 3.0 to protect your children from industrial nihilism and the terrible “boobs.” Kids are going to jailbreak the restrictions of course, the clever little monkeys. But Apple, much like the public library, will be pretty much in the legal clear.

Did it not occur to Apple that the second it opened up the candy store to all comers, there would be more than few “blue” offerings? Isn’t this America?!? Apple says the iPhone is allegedly putting the Internet in your pocket. If the Internet is about anything, it’s curse words and boobs.

Apple's hosting a market that promised to provide an "app for that." They have the right to police the market to make sure the apps do what they say they will (like not break your phone and not steal your passwords). But who are they to tell me that actually I don't want an app that does what Reznor's app does? 

Watch the fanboys rip Helen A.S. Popkin to shreds when you follow her on Twitter — or just  be her friend on on Facebook. C'mon! All the kids are doin' it! What are ya, chicken?

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