The Ninjawords slice-and-dice

Yet another nice little gaffe on the part of Apple.

John Gruber ( reports on the recent flap regarding an iPhone app called Ninjawords (note: Gruber’s blog entry does contain profanity). Part of this is a case of unfortunate timing on the part of Matchstick (makers of Ninjawords), who wanted to release an app prior to Apple’s rollout of age ratings.

The other part is where Apple drops the ball. Other apps contain the not-so-nice language reviewers objected to in Ninjawords, yet do not have a 17+ rating. In general, I find it silly to rate an entire dictionary “adults only” for its inclusion of profanities. And apparently Phil Crosby of Matchstick agrees. Quoting from Gruber’s article:

Regarding this discrepancy between the ratings for dictionaries, Crosby said to me, “Apple may slap a 17+ rating on our app and wash their hands, saying ‘you’re not required to censor your app’, but at the same time, they’re putting a great deal of pressure on us to do so. Who wants to be the only illicit dictionary on the App Store? That may work for Urban Dictionary, but not us. I think that applying parental ratings inconsistently is tightly related to censorship in our case, and will be true for other apps as well.”

A certain parallel can be drawn here between the MPAA’s NC-17 rating and Apple’s 17+ rating. The MPAA claims their ratings board does not actually censor. While the letter of this is true, the spirit of an NC-17 is that distribution becomes much narrower and most theatres will not show an NC-17 film at all. So it is de facto censorship in that most producers who actually want to turn a profit wind up cutting or editing movies to get an R rating.

I’m not quite as well versed in the iPhone App Store, but from a cursory browse it appears that the 17+ rating definitely changes the way people look at a given app, and it’s entirely possible company-owned iPhone users may be restricted by company policy from using a 17+ rated app. In the past Apple has treated 17+ apps differently (not allowing promo codes for 17+ apps for a short while) and may yet decide to do so again.

I do find it distasteful that Apple may, on one hand, say “you’re not required to censor your app” but engage in de facto censorship of that app after it’s on sale.