Excerpts From the Diary of an App Store Reviewer

Monday May 11

Examined a new e-book reader that hooks up to Project Gutenberg as a content source. Doesn’t ship with any content, but has default suggestions for “classics” from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jules Verne. Nothing dirty, though. Spent a few minutes searching and found The Kama Sutra, which is supposed to be dirty. Closed the office door and started reading.

Monday Afternoon

Not sure what a “lingam” is, but if it means what I think it means, just thinking about it is making mine swell. Jackpot. Rejected app for inappropriate content.

Tuesday May 12

Author of that dirty e-book app rejected yesterday complains that other e-book apps already in The Store have access to the very same edition of The Kama Sutra. Ha. I’ll respond next week.

Wednesday May 13

Began examining some game submitted a week or two ago. Slick UI, kind of fun to play. But: one of the help screen images shows a little icon representing an iPhone. Rejected the app with this message:

Thank you for submitting [app name] to the App Store. We’ve reviewed [app name] and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because of an Apple trademark image. Rule 2 under “Unauthorized Use of Apple Trademarks” in Apple’s Copyright and Trademark Guidelines states:

“You may not use the Apple Logo or any other Apple-owned graphic symbol, logo, or icon on or in connection with web sites, products, packaging, manuals, promotional/advertising materials, or for any other purpose except pursuant to an express written trademark license from Apple, such as a reseller agreement.”

Friday May 15

Stopped by Starbucks on way to work. Long line. For some reason my mind drifted to a story I saw on TV when I was a kid, about the East German Stasi and how they were the most efficient and creepiest of the Cold War spook agencies. The KGB and CIA had empires to monitor, with major language and culture barriers. The Stasi only had to monitor themselves, Germans.

The story was about some West German guy. Just some regular guy, a salesman or something, with a wife and kids in the 1970s. One day he gets pulled aside by two Stasi agents and they show him pictures they had taken of him screwing around on his wife with some woman from work. Pictures they somehow took through a peephole in the wall of a hotel.

The show must have been from around like a year or two after the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that. They showed some of the photos from the Stasi’s actual file on the guy. Pictures of him and his girlfriend arriving together at a hotel. Pictures of his kids going to school. I think it was “60 Minutes”, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was “Dateline”. What I do remember very clearly, though, is that the program did not actually show any of the photos the Stasi took of the guy shtupping the woman. I remember wishing very much that they had. Man, I’ll bet some of those Stasi guys still have piles of those kind of photos. I know I would.

Anyway, the thing is, the Stasi never did anything with the guy. He knew no secrets. They didn’t ask him to spy on his neighbors. They just showed him the pictures, told him they’d be watching him, and said that someday he might hear from them again. That was it.

But that was enough. The guy was broken. He was like 50 or so when they interviewed him for the show, but I swear he looked like 80, especially his eyes. He’d had a total breakdown. Spent a year in the loony bin, everything. He said what drove him mad wasn’t that he thought he was still being followed, but that he realized that even if he wasn’t still being followed, he would never know. It would never end.

They said one difference between the Stasi and the KGB was that Stasi agents had individual discretion. Tremendous discretion. They’d tell some agent to build up a dossier of West German informants, and that was it. The rest was up to the agent: who he picked, how he’d get them to flip, everything. I always thought that sounded like a cool job, being a secret agent.

Monday May 18

The dude who wrote that game with the iPhone icon seems very upset. Says that the iPhone image is used to explain that the user must tilt the device in order to play the game, and so how can he show this visually without using an image of an iPhone. And he has a list of other apps already in the Store which use similar graphics. I reply with the exact same message as last week, word for word. Spend the rest of the day playing Flight Control.

Tuesday May 19

Wrote back to the guy with the dirty e-book reader app:

Thank you for submitting [app name] to the App Store. We’ve reviewed [app name] and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains inappropriate sexual content and is in violation of Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement which states:

“Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

I could read that over and over. It’s like the voice of a robot. The voice of authority. The voice of authoritative robots.

I feel a surge sending it. I can imagine that for the developer on the other end the experience must be like that of speaking to a wall. A monolith. But it’s a wall that might actually be listening. That on the other side of the wall might be — must be, no? — a human being, an at least reasonably smart late-20s/early-30s guy with a B.S. in comp sci who grew up in the same culture, shares the same interests. Someone who in broad demographic terms is more or less exactly like him. Someone whom he could not just relate to but reason with. Someone who, if presented with the simple facts, would surely see the absurdity of the stated reasons behind this app’s rejection. Compared to most other competitive fields, it really is easier to get a fair shake in the computer industry, dominated such that it is by Spocks rather than Kirks (if you will), and so the unfair shakes stand out all the more.

Like the other guy this week, the one with the game with the icon that looks like an iPhone, which, he persuasively argues, doesn’t seem to even violate the cited guideline regarding Apple-owned graphic symbols and logos insofar as that he commissioned an original graphic from an icon artist, and, further, that numerous other apps already in the Store, including several which his would compete directly against, include similar representations of an iPhone. I know this already, because I approved several of those apps myself. I did this deliberately, knowing that if there were, say, two well-known apps available in the Store which violate this dubious (to say the least) interpretation of Apple’s copyright guidelines, it would be far more satisfying to reject only the third such app than it would have been to reject all three.

Rejecting all of them, consistently, would in fact be no good at all. The feeling of being part of the monolith — of being the monolith — really only surges when I use my position to act capriciously.

To act fairly would be to follow the rules. To act capriciously is to be the rules.

So, yes, I can imagine what it feels like at the other side of this. He is hoping there is someone like me reading his plea, an individual who can see the injustice and absurdity of the situation and who could, with the click of a button, make it right. And in fact his hope is correct. But he can’t tell, because there is never a name attached to the communication and the language used is so rigid and impersonal. And so it feels to him like his hope is wrong, that he is just talking to a wall, that this is a very important relationship in his life and it is not going well, and in this particular very important relationship he holds none of the cards and the entity on the other side holds them all, but does not care, and worse, does not even notice.

Wednesday May 20

Began examining new Flickr client app. Ends up it is surprisingly difficult to find pornographic content on Flickr. Entire day wasted.

Thursday May 21

The developer of the game submitted a new version where the icon representing the iPhone has been replaced by a simple rectangle. I reject it again on the same copyright violation grounds.

Friday May 22

Game developer writes back, arguing that it is “just a rectangle” and “Apple has no copyright on rectangles”. He wrote, “If anything, I’m concerned that users won’t even recognize it as an iPhone.”

I reject it again, with the following explanation:

Thank you for submitting [app name] to the App Store. We’ve reviewed [app name] and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains a graphical device representation that is not recognizable as an iPhone or iPod touch.

I should have let it sit for a week, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.

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