Eucalyptus ostracized and re-welcomed

Some time last week, the iPhone app world has plunged into turmoil when James Montgomerie, the developer of Eucalyptus, an electronic book reader software for Apple’s iPhone/iPod Touch, expressed discontent on his blog, over Apple’s decision to block his software from its App Store. After the initial rejection of Eucalyptus, Montgomerie filed a complaint to Apple, only receiving an ambiguous response that they “cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains inappropriate sexual content”. By “inappropriate sexual content”, the Apple personnel refers to an electronic, text-only copy of Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian literature which partially contains descriptions of human sexual behaviors.

What made Apple’s position in this dispute was twofold: first, Kama Sutra could be accessed through other ebook reader software on the App Store like Stanza ,or even Apple’s own Safari web browser, so only blocking Eucalyptus would appear unfair at the very least; second, even if Eucalyptus were the only app that provided access to Kama Sutra, then Apple would trigger a potential chain of imposing censorship to other literary works as well. Should Apple be eligible to also cut off apps which offer access to, say, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Catcher in the Rye because they contain “offensive materials (of any kind!)”? The list of “inappropriate” works could go on and on unless there are clearer, more valid rules to identify the extent to which apps would render inappropriate contents.

As for the sake of Eucalyptus, fortunately, Apple caved in to the criticism and pressure from many external parties and altered its stance, accepting the app to its App Store once again. This kind of incident is bound to reemerge, however, because as I have mentioned in a post earlier this month, Apple has very limited experience to rate and select software that melds with contents. It should accept that catering to professional graphics or video editing software on Macs is a very different game from rating thousands of (sometimes useless) apps on iPhones. Hopefully, parental controls in the next version of iPhone OS would alleviate some of these quirks, but the criteria on rating the apps themselves would likely remain a controversy. Let us just hope that Apple’s inconsistent, often stupid, policies on apps do not further as to alienate the developers.

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