"Freedom from porn." That's how Apple CEO Steve Jobs describes his company's policy not to allow applications (apps) featuring pornographic content to run on its products. And Apple's been putting its balance sheet where its public relations is, removing approximately 5,000 apps with explicit material from the iTunes store earlier this year.
Given how ubiquitous pornography is on the internet and that other smartphone platforms offer it in abundance (not to mention the fact that users can easily jailbreak their iPhones or iPads and run whatever apps they want), the policy may be largely symbolic. But it's a symbol that's sparking condemnation from some corners.
After the iPad's adherence to Apple's no-porn policy reignited the issue, an editorial in Advertising Age equated the company's actions to government censorship. And a story in The New York Times argued that the computer business was built on pornography, thus Apple's stance will likely result in its devices losing market share. But Jobs doesn't appear to give much weight to either dire predictions or charges that he's suppressing liberty.
The controversy began when Gawker blogger Ryan Tate fired away at Jobs for being anti-freedom.
Jobs responded, "Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom." He also said, "Users, developers, and publishers can do whatever they like-they don't have to buy or develop or publish on iPads."
When Tate replied that he didn't want "freedom from porn," Jobs answered, "You might care more about porn when you have kids." In later correspondence with a consumer, Jobs went further, saying his company had a "moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone."
Jobs revealed that the policy, by targeting parents, may be based as much on shrewd business sense as on moral consideration. If Jobs is right, the demographic least likely to join the Apple revolution-older PC users-could be won over by word of its responsiveness toward family concerns.
The biggest sign Apple's anti-porn stance may not be the retail suicide that Ad Age and The New York Times suggest it is? Microsoft is following suit. On June 7, the company announced that the new Windows 7 mobile software will not allow apps with content that "a reasonable person would consider to be adult or borderline adult."
If other electronic companies likewise get the message that a large chunk of consumers would welcome the kind of liberty as Jobs describes, we may soon have more freedom to use technology without fear of being inundated by images that debase sexuality.