John Gruber displaying some of his high-brow comedyDaring Fireball got an email beatdown today from Phil Schiller about the controversy surrounding Apple’s decision to "censor" Ninjawords, a dictionary app for the iPhone.  It turns out that most of Daring Fireball’s argument yesterday was just wrong.  

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. You accused Apple of both in your story and the fact is that we did neither.  Ninjawords is an application which uses content from the 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.

Wiktionary, the source of of Ninja Words definitions, contains huge amounts of profanity, even if it isn’t the seven words you can’t say on TV.  While Ninjawords may have did a search and destroy on those 7 words in the database, many "Urban Dictionary-type" definitions still exist.

 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 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; is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary.

Apple was right to reject it or ask for a 17+ rating on the app.  The author could clean it up or get put into a 17+ section.

The problem is they got both due to poor timing.  They were submitting at the time when the 17+ App Store was just being populated.  The developer wanted to get the app in the store so they voluntarily censored their app.  Although the app uses a static version of the Wictionary which may have removed some profanity, there is a lot of other implicit profanity in Wictionary that may not contain any "bad words" but still isn’t something a 10-year old should be reading.  They, like many other dictionaries, got a 17+ rating.

Gruber, pictured above at a WWDC, decided, for whatever reason to back up the developers of this particular app without researching exactly what the real issue was.

Although the App Store has made and continues to make baffling decisions on accepting and rejecting apps, we should exercise caution when scrutinizing them. 

Schiller ended with this:

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.

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