Dec. 21, 2010 at 3:11 PM ET
The latest casualty of WikiLeaks fever is an iTunes app that promised "instant access" to the controversial site, feeding "new content and leaked documents regardless of coordinated attacks and server disruptions to the original Wikileaks website." Less than three days after the "WikiLeaks App" — which has no official affiliation with WikiLeaks but whose developer promised to spend every dollar as a donation to WikiLeaks — appeared in the App Store, Apple removed it.
The $1.99 app, which was released in the store on Friday, was no longer available by yesterday afternoon. By the time it was removed, it had been downloaded 4,434 times, amassing in profit $5,825 for Russian-based Hint Solutions, a developer of software and smart phone applications. In an interview via Skype this morning, general manager Igor Barinov told me $4,434 will be transferred to WikiLeaks, fulfilling a promise he made to donate $1 from each download purchased towards online democracy and "Internet freedom," to "help fund the legal defense costs in the event that high-profile Internet journalists will be charged in a United States Court."
But it's clear he's disappointed about having his product removed, especially after it became the No. 1 downloaded app in 15 countries in the iTunes Store lifestyle category, including Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Sweden. Barinov says he really does believe in the work of WikiLeaks.
"In Russia, it's forbidden to read and have 'Mein Kampf' by Adolf Hitler. And it's mentioned in law, so its not a point for me to check if I can make app to read such book," Barinov wrote, "So I had a second idea: a lot of people are afraid to help WikiLeaks directly ... Can you have problems if you will buy an iPhone app? i think no. Can you have problems if you send a check to the WikiLeaks Foundation? Maybe. If you want to donate, but don't want to do it directly, you can buy the WikiLeaks App. It costs less than a cup of coffee at McDonald's here."
I reached out to Apple and spokeswoman Trudy Muller responded.
We removed the Wikileaks App from the App Store because it violated our developer guidelines. Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or targeted group in harms way.
Apple also contacted Barinov, who tweeted this at about 9:44 a.m. PST: "Got a call from Apple. They will provide official answer in 1-2 days. But they named points of apple dev guideline which bans app forever," including "14.1 Personal attacks: Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected."
To which Barinov responded in a tweet: "Jesus!"
The app received, at best, mixed reviews in its limited time in the App Store.
- "Awful" by Pierce Cohen: "Waste of money, rather go on wikileaks.com"
- "Not too bad" by Krymsin4224: "This app does, essentially, what the other reviewers have said, but it operates smoothly enough. A landscape mode (especially for iPhone) and a search feature would be nice, though."
- "Do not buy!" by Murdock1450: "This app is just a wrapper for the mobile web site. There is no access to the actual released documents. Twitter feed doesn't count as up to date information."
When we were Skyping, Barinov admitted, "The application idea is very simple — it's like a skin for a browser with two tabs — one for Twitter and one for the actual mirror. You can reach both locations by the Safari browser."
He told me that Apple had cited two specific violations, the one mentioned above, and this one: "22.1 Legal requirements: Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users. It is the developer's obligation to understand and conform to all local laws."
Barinov thinks Apple's reasons for pulling the app can be boiled down to: charging for an app that provides free content and violating the charity app policy.
He wrote that he was willing to make changes to bring the $1.99 app back, but "They said there is no way back, forbidden forever," and that the "developer support team didn't want to speak with me yesterday" about its reasons for the removal. Even if it were to return as a free app, it would be "an epic fail."
Barinov thinks the app's ouster is "all about politics."
Business Insider brings up some concerns that Barinov touches upon: "While we don't think it's a perfect apples to apple comparison, would Apple pull an issue of The New York Times or Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only Daily if it published WikiLeaks documents that Apple think endanger people's lives?"
What do you think?