Apple removing adult content from the App Store?

Wave goodbye to adult-themed applications in the App Store, because it looks like they’re on their way out. According to Tech Crunch, Apple has begun purging its catalog of any and all programs that feature what it deems “adult content.”

Tech Crunch shares an e-mail from the iPhone app review team to developer Jon Atherton of Wobble iBoobs, which says that Apple has decided to change its rules:

Your application, Wobble iBoobs (Premium Uncensored), contains content that we had originally believed to be suitable for distribution. However, we have recently received numerous complaints from our customers about this type of content, and have changed our guidelines appropriately.

We have decided to remove any overtly sexual content from the App Store, which includes your application.

Apple did not respond to our request for comment, but Macworld confirmed that the app in question is no longer listed in the App Store, though its name does pop up as an auto-complete option in iTunes's search box.

At the moment, it's hard to tell if Apple is systematically removing this content or whether it's only targeting apps that have been the source of complaints. Tech Crunch citing some applications that are in the catalog but are unavailable for download, but many applications with similar content seem to still be present in the App Store as of this writing.

The history of sexual content in the App Store has been a murky one. Steve Jobs was quite clear that out-and-out pornography would be banned when he announced the App Store in March 2008, but there’s been no shortage of content one might deem PG-13 or R-rated. Apple removed some applications that began sneaking inappropriate content in from the Web after they’d been approved, but given the potential for getting around the rules, it’s often been a case of trying to hold back the flood waters with a sandbag or two.

One attempt to control this process was the institution of mandated age ratings for all applications, combined with pop-up warnings when users downloaded apps that were rated at the highest level of 17+. However, this process wasn’t without its flaws, as any app that accesses the Internet—which could feasibly be used to display adult content—was awarded this dubious badge of honor as well.

Developer Fraser Speirs has pointed out that the banning of objectionable apps isn’t the only step Apple has taken towards controlling adult content. It now appears that the company is hiding screenshots of apps that are rated higher than the Parental Controls applications rating in iTunes (iTunes -> Preferences -> Parental) or on the iPhone OS’s restrictions (Settings -> General -> Restrictions).

Unfortunately, the blanket restrictions mean that innocuous apps that merely access the Net—Instapaper, for example, or NetNewsWire—are still being caught in the crossfire. As Speirs suggests, some way of distinguishing apps that merely access the Net from those that really have content only suitable for a 17+ audience would seem to be called for.

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