Two days ago we wrote about how Apple’s app store review team forced the developers of the dictionary app Ninjawords to remove certain objectionable words from their app, yet still slapped a 17+ rating on it, a seeming contradiction in terms.
But to Apple’s credit, they’ve responded in the form of a Phil Schiller email to John Gruber of DaringFireball, who was the first to publish an account of the Ninjawords situation.
As it turns out, Ninajwords chose to voluntarily censor their own app because in their zeal to get onto iTunes as quickly as possible, they weren’t willing to wait for the parental control features that were a part of iPhone OS 3.0 update. Below, check out out Schiller’s email on the issue.
Let me start with the most important points – Apple did not censor the content in this developer’s application and Apple did not reject this developer’s application for including references to common swear words…
Ninjawords is an application which uses content from the Wiktionary.org online wiki-based dictionary to provide a nice fast dictionary application on the web and on the iPhone. Contrary to what you reported, the Ninjawords application was not rejected in the App Store review process for including common “swear” words. In fact anyone can easily see that Apple has previously approved other dictionary applications in the App Store that include all of the “swear” words that you gave as examples in your story.
The issue that the App Store reviewers did find with the Ninjawords application is that it provided access to other more vulgar terms than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, words that many reasonable people might find upsetting or objectionable. A quick search on Wiktionary.org easily turns up a number of offensive “urban slang” terms that you won’t find in popular dictionaries such as one that you referenced, the New Oxford American Dictionary included in Mac OS X. Apple rejected the initial submission of Ninjawords for this reason, provided the Ninjawords developer with information about some of the vulgar terms, and suggested to the developer that they resubmit the application for approval once parental controls were implemented on the iPhone.
The Ninjawords developer then decided to filter some offensive terms in the Ninjawords application and resubmit it for approval for distribution in the App Store before parental controls were implemented. Apple did not ask the developer to censor any content in Ninjawords, the developer decided to do that themselves in order to get to market faster. Even though the developer chose to censor some terms, there still remained enough vulgar terms that it required a parental control rating of 17+.
You are correct that the Ninjawords application should not have needed to be censored while also receiving a 17+ rating, but that was a result of the developers’ actions, not Apple’s. I believe that the Apple app review team’s original recommendation to the developer to submit the Ninjawords application, without censoring it, to the App Store once parental controls was implemented would have been the best course of action for all; Wiktionary.org is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary.
Apple’s goals remain aligned with customers and developers — to create an innovative applications platform on the iPhone and iPod touch and to assist many developers in making as much great software as possible for the iPhone App Store. While we may not always be perfect in our execution of that goal, our efforts are always made with the best intentions, and if we err we intend to learn and quickly improve.