Apple Responds to Ninjawords Censorship Tempest

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Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller took the time to craft a lengthy, detailed statement of the company’s position with respect to criticism leveled Wednesday by this site and others, over the App Store review process Matchstick Software’s Ninjawords application endured on its way to appearing as a 17+ rated selection on the iTunes App Store in mid-July.

As it had been initially reported on Tuesday evening at Daring Fireball, Apple “required” Ninjawords — an iPhone dictionary app that delivers Wiktionary.org content to iPhone and iPod Touch users — to censor certain vulgar content in order to gain approval as a title in the App Store, and yet the company still gave the app a 17+ rating, which requires purchasers to provide proof of age before they can purchase apps so rated.

In a response published Thursday to Daring Fireball author John Gruber, Schiller clarified certain facts and the chain of events that led up to Ninjawords finally appearing on the App Store after having first been rejected by Apple review staff. As Gruber acknowledged Thursday, in actuality, Apple reviewers merely suggested that Matchstick Software developers wait to re-submit their application until Apple had in place Parental Controls (ie: 17+ ratings) on the App Store and in no way suggested that content on the app had to be censored in order to gain Apple’s approval for sale.

Because Parental Controls were not yet available at the time Matchstick wanted to take its product to market, the developers acted of their own accord to censor the app’s content, hoping it would thereby pass Apple’s review process.

As Gruber wrote, “it really came down to bad timing around the launch of parental controls.”

Matchstick spokesman Phil Crosby told Gruber via email, “17+ ratings were not available when we launched, which means at that time, it was simply not possible for our dictionary to be on the App Store without being censored. Given the options of censoring or sitting on the side lines while our competitors ate our lunch, we chose to launch.”

All in all, one can take it as a good sign that Apple cares enough about public perception of the App Store and its often-criticized review policies for Schiller to explain the company’s position so clearly as he did to Gruber.

It’s even better to know that Apple finds — as Schiller put it — “Wiktionary.org is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary.”