Apple blocks news app about drone strikes — again

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Apple apparently thinks users of its iPhone are so sensitive that it needs to shield them from a news app.

The app in question, called Metadata+, alerts users when there’s a new news report about a U.S. drone strike. It contains a simple text report and shows on a map where recent drone strikes have taken place. It doesn’t contain any graphic images of the strikes or much else.

But still, Apple apparently believes that’s too much for its users’ delicate sensitivities. On Tuesday, Apple pulled the app from its store after accepting it mere hours earlier, according to Josh Begley, the data artist who created Metadata+.

Apple didn’t give a reason for removing the app and it didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment. But the company has made its feelings clear about it in the past.

Begley originally designed Metadata+, then called Drones+, back in 2012. Apple repeatedly rejected it, using a variety of excuses. It wasn’t “useful or entertaining enough.” It didn’t “appeal to a broad enough audience.” But numerous times, Apple used the same rationale — the app was “objectionable.”

Apple finally accepted the app into its store in 2014, after Begley changed the name and stripped it of all content and gave it a more generic description. Once the app was in the store, he plugged back in all the historical information about drone strikes.

Then, just as suddenly, Apple removed the app more than a year later, saying it contained “excessively crude or objectionable content.”

Begley said he tried to re-submit the app 12 more times after that, finally and inexplicably getting it through on Tuesday only to have it removed again.

Apple has tried to keep a tight grip on the apps it allows in its store. In part it’s done that to protect users from malicious software. As a result, the vast majority of smartphone malware targets Android-based devices.

But the company has drawn controversy in the past for making seemingly capricious decisions about apps that aren’t malicious. It approved an app that allowed users to place a picture of themselves in a scene that made it look like they were having sex with a porn star. But it rejected a game that sought to highlight immigration issues for being “pornographic” because it included a cartoon representation of characters’ bodies going through a body scanner at a checkpoint.

For his part, Begley said the bigger story is about how the country’s drone wars remain largely hidden from view. The app represented his attempt to put a light on them and to see how that might affect public discussion. That impetus seems particularly relevant given that President Trump is pressing to lift even the minimal restraints President Obama put on the drone program and strikes are already up markedly in the first months of his administration, with the number of civilian casualties rising.

“If anything about the (Metadata+) app is ‘excessively objectionable or crude,’ perhaps it’s the airstrikes themselves,” Begley wrote.

FILE – An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night in 2010. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

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