(RNS) The late Steve Jobs was long considered a control freak by colleagues and employees. It should come as no surprise that the technology Apple designs continues to reflect an ethos of control.
Unlike rival Android, owned by Google, Apple’s operating system for the iPhone and iPad is a closed platform on which every app must be preapproved by the company.
Apple’s developer guidelines prohibit obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory apps that “in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone users.”
Free speech and digital rights advocates, including San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, rail against these red lines and call on Apple to “give up the keys” to its walled garden, but Apple refuses to budge.
Jobs was always reluctant to do so, famously telling one customer in 2010 “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy (an) Android phone.” More than two years after Jobs’ death, Apple maintains its role as moral watchdog on matters related to porn, and religious offense.
Because apps are typically rejected before hitting the market, it’s difficult to determine how many apps have been banned. Here are five known apps with religious themes that Apple has rejected or pulled from the iTunes store since its launch in 2008:
1. Me So Holy
The Me So Holy app would have allowed users to paste their faces onto the bodies of religious figures including nuns, priests and Jesus. Apple rejected Me So Holy in 2009 for “containing objectionable content” in violation of the company’s developer agreement. The app’s co-creators Benjamin Kahle and Heather Lipner responded to Apple’s decision on their blog: “We feel that Apple is being too sensitive to its perceived user group and are disappointed that this otherwise creative, freethinking company would reject such a positive and fun application.”
2. Jew or Not Jew?
The “Jew or Not Jew?” app allowed users to find out which celebrities and public figures are Jewish. French anti-racism group SOS Racisme threatened to sue Apple on the grounds that French law prohibits the compilation of people’s race and religious affiliation without consent. Apple pulled it from the French App Store in September 2011, and later removed it from its online stores worldwide. The app’s developer, Johann Levy, who is Jewish, told the media he was worried the app would be perceived as too “pro-Jewish.” During the controversy, Levy told Le Parisien newspaper, “For me, there’s nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish or not. On the contrary, it’s about being proud.”
3. iSlam Muhammad
On Everybody Draw Mohammed Day in 2010, Apple removed the iSlam Muhammad app, which encouraged users to “enjoy violent and hateful passages from the Quran that support and encourage Muslims to attack and behead anyone who does not agree with them.” Apps used to criticize the Bible remain available for download. ThumpOMatic arms users with “randomized scriptural integrity” to find out “just how far a thumper will thump in hewing to the letter of the Good Book.”
4. Manhattan Declaration
In 2010, Apple banned an app from the Manhattan Declaration, a Christian manifesto affirming “the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife.” A Change.org petition asked Jobs to remove the app, which it termed “anti-gay” and “anti-choice.” Apple obliged, saying the app violated developer guidelines “by being offensive to large groups of people.” Manhattan Declaration supporters launched a counter-petition asking that the app be reinstated in the App Store, but to no avail.
5. Exodus International
Exodus International, an “ex-gay” Christian organization that shut down and apologized to the gay community in June, released an app in 2011 to help gay men and women convert to a heterosexual life. Truth Wins Out, a group that counters “anti-gay religious extremism,” launched a Change.org petition demanding that the app be removed from the App Store. The petition garnered more than 150,000 signatures, prompting Apple to remove it for “being offensive to large groups of people.” Until its removal, Apple’s rating of the Exodus International app indicated that it contained no objectionable material.
BONUS: Send Me to Heaven
This one’s got nothing to do with religion. The Send Me to Heaven app encourages smartphone users to throw their expensive handsets as high as possible. The phone’s accelerometer tracks the distance recorded and charts users’ scores on a leader board. Apple rejected the app in August for “encouraging behavior that could result in damage to the user’s device.”