I’ve been sitting on this blog for a while but EFF’s excellent post on Apple’s “crystal prisons” finally made me get off my butt and publish it. It’s based on a more detailed analysis I did for a paper that I can provide upon request.
Should users of Apple’s iOS devices have access to an app that condemns marriage equality? How about an app that lets users create their own joke drivers licenses? Or an app that gives them access to content published by WikiLeaks, or another that advocates for a single-payer health care system in America?
Regardless of one’s opinion of the appropriateness, usefulness or political views represented in these apps, the fact is that whether they are available to iOS users is at the moment up to Apple and Apple alone—and that’s precisely the problem.
Since launching the revolutionary iPhone in the summer of 2007, Apple Inc. has become one of the leading manufacturers of mobile communication devices in the world, having sold more than 314 million iOS-based devices (including the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) to date. Apple’s dominant position in this market includes its App Store, which as of this writing boasts more than 585,000 apps and has surpassed 25 billion downloads. Apple’s iOS ecosystem has become a critical entry points unto the Internet, which is one of the most important platforms for political action and personal expression available today.
Unlike the Internet, however, the App Store is a relatively closed ecosystem. To gain access to the App Store, developers must have their apps approved by Apple. The company’s app review and approval policies have been criticized for being opaque and arbitrary, and have resulted in the rejection of both explicitly and implicitly political apps—including the apps listed at the top of this blog, as well as many others.