The Apple Soft Porn Store

The school I work at is looking at deploying iPod touch to every pupil. My job, as you might expect, is to Make It Happen in accordance with policy. We have internet policies and appropriate-use policies.

After some research, preference-tweaking and so on, I have one conclusion to share with you. Despite Steve's insistence that Apple wouldn't carry porn in the App Store:

The App Store is so full of soft porn apps that I cannot provide access to the App Store and comply with our acceptable use policies.

There are many good reasons to provide access: the students can enhance and personalise their devices with apps that we haven't thought of, and we could easily deploy new applications.

The core problem is this: none of the parental controls actually remove restricted-rating applications from App Store searches and browsing. All the restrictions do is prevent purchase of the app.

If you haven't seen what I'm talking about, you probably haven't been in the Lifestyle section of the App Store recently. How about:

These screenshots were captured from iTunes with the content restriction on applications set to "4+". Hardly content for a four-year-old, wouldn't you say?

On the iPhone, the situation is a little better. When Restrictions are turned on, restricted apps cannot be purchased and the screenshots are hidden too. This goes some way to helping but the names and descriptions of the applications are sufficiently suggestive that they would be inappropriate for school:

"Epic Boobs features only the most amazingly epic breasts from all over the world. Hand picked, this is an amazing collection of only the most awesome sets female breasts." [sic]

...or, indeed:

"Also check out my other sexy babe apps, including: Self-Shot Boobs, MILFs, Scene Girls, Amateur Babe Collection, Sexy Buns, Boob Facts"

Now, of course, the internet itself contains plenty of porn. However, we have tools in place to deal with that: logging and filtering proxies. I've never believed that technology alone can keep children safe on the internet, but a combination of technology, policy and a good chance of being caught has deterred most so far.

The problem with the App Store on iPhone OS and in iTunes on the desktop is that it can't be filtered in the same way. All HTTP requests go to some server ending in phobos.apple.com, and it's very hard to distinguish suitable content from unsuitable. Even if we could, it's not clear how that would leave the user in a non-browser client like iTunes when they tripped the filter.

It's time Apple did something about this. I've filed radar bugs with Apple for both the iPhone OS App Store application and the App Store in iTunes 9. If you're a developer, you might want to file duplicate bugs on this. If you're a parent or at all concerned about this, you could send Apple feedback on iTunes or the iPhone

Radar Links

  • iTunes does not hide restricted applications from app store: rdar://7560200, publicly viewable at OpenRadar.
  • I dupe'd Jiva DeVoe's bug "App Store 17+ Apps show up in iTunes regardless of parental control settings": rdar://7551166 and at OpenRadar.