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Apple Defends Its Decision to Allow Infowars in the App Store

John Paczkowski, writing for BuzzFeed:

On Apple’s podcast platform, Infowars was presented with an easily reviewed episode list — a concrete thing that could be used to support a determination that its content was/wasn’t in violation of the company’s policies. The Infowars app is different. It streams video broadcasts, which means they are ephemeral in the app and on Apple’s platform. That the same episodes are readily available on the Infowars site doesn’t matter. In order for Apple to act on a violation, there needs to be evidence that one occurred on its platform. Simply put: If Jones has violated the company’s rules, it has yet to catch him in the act.

This distinction could explain why Apple was so quick to remove almost all of Infowars’ podcasts in the first place. Given that the company didn’t host the podcasts to begin with, the removal was technically not a content purge and something more akin to removing a link. In other words, Apple’s enforcement, which caused tech’s biggest platforms to follow suit, was something of a content moderation sleight of hand — a cosmetic change rather than an actual deletion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few days. I suspect that Paczkowski has it right, that Apple is more willing to remove a podcast because iTunes doesn’t host podcasts — it’s just a directory. Whereas if they remove the app there’s no way around it. I think this distinction is weak sauce though — iTunes isn’t technically a gatekeeper to podcasts, but the truth is that the iTunes podcast directory is the de facto standard index of podcasts. Getting de-listed from iTunes is a huge deal.

The web is the world’s open platform. The fact that the App Store is a closed platform that Apple controls is a feature, not a bug. If Apple removed the app, Infowars’s website would still work in Safari. It really doesn’t make sense to me that Apple would de-list the podcasts but not remove the app that contains the exact same content. And as Paczkowski reports, in the aftermath of this highly-publicized kerfuffle, Infowars’s iOS app has risen from 47th to 3rd in the “News” category. To me it would make more sense to have kept both the podcast and the app than to remove one but not the other.

Update: I wonder if this is less about Infowars specifically and more about Apple being reluctant to draw attention to their total control of the App Store. Google’s recent lashing from EU regulators hinged largely on the Play Store. I know Apple loves having control over the App Store, but in today’s climate — polarized politics combined with increasing regulatory scrutiny of tech giants — I suspect they don’t want to draw attention to that control.

Thursday, 9 August 2018