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<nettime> Apple Rejects App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes
nettime's avid reader on Fri, 31 Aug 2012 21:15:14 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Apple Rejects App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes

By Christina Bonnington and Spencer Ackerman
August 30, 201


It seemed like a simple enough idea for an iPhone app: Send users
a pop-up notice whenever a flying robots kills someone in one of
America’s many undeclared wars. But Apple keeps blocking the Drones+
program from its App Store — and therefore, from iPhones everywhere.
The Cupertino company says the content is “objectionable and crude,”
according to Apple’s latest rejection letter.

It’s the third time in a month that Apple has turned Drones+ away,
says Josh Begley, the program’s New York-based developer. The
company’s reasons for keeping the program out of the App Store
keep shifting. First, Apple called the bare-bones application that
aggregates news of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia
“not useful.” Then there was an issue with hiding a corporate logo.
And now, there’s this crude content problem.

Begley is confused. Drones+ doesn’t present grisly images of corpses
left in the aftermath of the strikes. It just tells users when a
strike has occurred, going off a publicly available database of
strikes compiled by the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism,
which compiles media accounts of the strikes.

iOS developers have a strict set of guidelines that must be adhered
to in order to gain acceptance into the App Store. Apps are judged on
technical, content and design criteria. As Apple does not comment on
the app reviews process, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly why
an app got rejected. But Apple’s team of reviewers is small, sifts
through up to 10,000 apps a week, and necessarily errs on the side of
caution when it comes to potentially questionable apps.

Apple’s original objections to Drones+ regarded the functionality
in Begley’s app, not its content. Now he’s wondering if it’s worth
redesigning and submitting it a fourth time.

“If the content is found to be objectionable, and it’s literally just
an aggregation of news, I don’t know how to change that,” Begley says.

A mockup of developer Josh Begley’s drone-strike app for iOS.

Begley’s app is unlikely to be the next Angry Birds or Draw Something.
It’s deliberately threadbare. When a drone strike occurs, Drones+
catalogs it, and presents a map of the area where the strike took
place, marked by a pushpin. You can click through to media reports of
a given strike that the Bureau of Investigative Reporting compiles,
as well as some basic facts about whom the media thinks the strike
targeted. As the demo video above shows, that’s about it.

It works best, Begley thinks, when users enable push notifications
for Drones+. “I wanted to play with this idea of push notifications
and push button technology — essentially asking a question about what
we choose to get notified about in real time,” he says. “I thought
reaching into the pockets of U.S. smartphone users and annoying them
into drone-consciousness could be an interesting way to surface the
conversation a bit more.”

But that conversation may not end up occurring. Begley, a student at
Clay Shirky’s lab at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program,
submitted a threadbare version of Drones+ to Apple in July. About
two weeks later, on July 23, Apple told him was just too blah. “The
features and/or content of your app were not useful or entertaining
enough,” read an e-mail from Apple Begley shared with Wired, “or your
app did not appeal to a broad enough audience.”

Finally, on Aug. 27, Apple gave him yet another thumbs down. But this
time the company’s reasons were different from the fairly clear-cut
functionality concerns it previously cited. “We found that your app
contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which
is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” the
company e-mailed him.

It was the first time the App Store told him that his content was
the real problem, even though the content hadn’t changed much from
Begley’s initial July submission. It’s a curious choice: The App Store
carries remote-control apps for a drone quadricopter, although not one
actually being used in a war zone. And of course, the App Store houses
innumerable applications for news publications and aggregators that
deliver much of the same content provided by Begley’s app.

Wired reached out to Apple on the perplexing rejection of the app, but
Apple was unable to comment.

Begley is about at his wits end over the iOS version of Drones+. “I’m
kind of back at the drawing board about what exactly I’m supposed to
do,” Begley said. The basic idea was to see if he could get App Store
denizens a bit more interested in the U.S.’ secretive, robotic wars,
with information on those wars popping up on their phones the same
way an Instagram comment or retweet might. Instead, Begley’s thinking
about whether he’d have a better shot making the same point in the
Android Market.

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