Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is It Too Early To Say That I Hate the iPad?

So I'm getting a little annoyed with iPad censorship. Well, "censorship" may be too strong a word. "Content restrictions" might be more accurate. What I'm hearing is that Apple won't allow any iPad content that goes beyond a high "PG-13" rating. There's a strict "no nudity" policy in place, and concerns have been voiced about similar restrictions on high-end foul language. I've seen a number of writers and comics creators voice concerns on this front, but a case I read about today kind of bothers me.

There's a web comic project called Ulysses Seen, which is a comics adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses. But beyond being a careful adaptation, the guys behind this have conceived of it as a fully web-based project, with extensive hypertext footnotes and critical discussion drawing on a bookshelf-sized database of supporting material. Neat idea. But their app was rejected by Apple because the first chapter features a naked man jumping in the water, and a flaccid penis depicted in a completely non-sexual context violated their content restrictions. Pixellating or covering the offending anatomy in other obviously-censored ways was also a content violation, evidently, so the artist zoomed in on the horrible nekkid man until you couldn't see his ding-dong anymore. And Apple was appeased.

The Ulysses Seen guys are also conerned about some of the harsh language Joyce uses later on in the novel, which seems to violate the Apple content guide. So they'll be doing two versions of the comic from now on: their intended true-to-the-text version, available at their website, and the censored version you can get on your iPad. Guess which one I'm more interested in reading.

I've also read that Apple doesn't allow content that pokes fun at public figures. As reported by comics blog Robot 6:

Michael Cavna reports that Apple CEO Steve Jobs essentially accused cartoonist Mark Fiore of lying about the rejection of his iPhone app, telling attendees at a tech conference the Pulitzer Prize winner "never resubmitted" NewsToons after the company's initial brush-off. "We're doing the best we can, we're fixing mistakes," Jobs is quoted as saying. "But what happens is -- people lie. And then they run to the press and tell people about this oppression, and they get their 15 minutes of fame. We don't run to the press and say 'this guy is a son of a bitch liar!' -- we don't do that."

Fiore seems baffled, telling Cavna: "My NewsToons app was, in fact, rejected. ... The reason I never resubmitted the app was because I wasn't about to make the changes Apple sought and remove any 'content that ridicules public figures.' Ridiculing public figures is what I do and is an essential part of journalism."

Who does Jobs think he's kidding here? "We don't go to the press and say 'This guy is a son of a bitch liar'"? Uhm... You just did. And you showed your ass while doing it. Jobs has made it look like Apple doesn't want to talk about the restrictions they're placing on iPad content, and are getting belligerent when someone else does. Now, this was the third separate piece on iPad censorship that I'd read in the space of an hour, so I was already primed not to like anything Jobs had to say on the issue. But, holy crap. That statement really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Now I obviously don't like any of these policies, but the iPad is Apple's playground, so they can set any rules they want. And I can understand them wanting strict content limitations to avoid getting into any "art vs porn" arguments. Ditto "satire vs slander" arguments that might get them sued. It's a gutless stance to take, but it's their right to take it as the owners of the marketplace. Granted, it also guarantees I won't be shopping in that marketplace. I can make my own decisions on content, thanks, and so I'll give my business to companies that allow me to make those decisions.

Now, granted, I wasn't likely to buy from them to begin with. I have no interest in owning an iPad, and probably wouldn't buy e-books from Apple even if they were to offer them in a format that could be read by other devices. I don't like the iTunes interface (like most Apple programming, it feels restricted and claustrophobic to me), and I can only assume that an Apple bookstore would be the same. So I don't really have a horse in this race beyond that of someone who bristles at the slightest whiff of censorship. But still. It bugs me.

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