This Wednesday we reported on a column that accused Apple of censoring, of all things, a dictionary for inappropriate language. The story got a good swathe of the tech community up in arms, and even provoked a response from Apple senior VP Phil Schiller. Daring Fireball posted the letter up for today's column.
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Here's a rough summary of what happened. Ninjawords developer Matchstick Software brought out a dictionary app that uses Wiktionary.org as a source. Schiller alleges that Wiktionary.org contains several uncommon swear words that don't appear in other dictionaries. As a result of this, Apple asked the developer to wait until the App Store started allowing 17+ content and resubmit the unedited dictionary.
Matchstick understandably didn't want their dictionary to be one of the only 17+ dictionary apps for the iPhone. They also didn't want to wait an as-of-then undetermined amount of time for Apple to start allowing 17+ apps. Ninjawords was edited and resubmitted. Unfortunately, it still contained some vulgar terms, so it was given a parental control rating of 17+. Apple never asked the developer to censor anything, and the app could have come out uncensored if Matchstick had waited.
It's quite a relief to hear that Apple isn't so far gone as all that, but there are still some aspects of this story that I find worrisome. For one thing, Apple still allows unfettered access to the whole damned Internet on their smartphone. If they want to actually block questionable content, that would be the place to start. If a kid goes poking around a dictionary to find naughty words, at least he'll learn them in the proper context.
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There are quite a few dictionaries on the app store that contain many of the objectionable words Apple found in Ninjawords. Several of those dictionaries have no age limit, while others share the 17+ parental control limit. Apple's handling of these apps has been schizophrenic at best. Still, I think we all prefer uneven corporate policy to nefarious attempts to censor language.