500px got the App Store axe, but what about all these other R-rated apps?

ios apple app store r rated apps

Apple has pulled the 500px photography community app from its App Store because it was possible for people to find “pornography” and possibly even “child pornography” through the app. “The app was removed from the App Store for featuring pornographic images and material, a clear violation of our guidelines,” Apple told The Verge in a statement. “We also received customer complaints about possible child pornography. We’ve asked the developer to put safeguards in place to prevent pornographic images and material in their app.”

500px is calling foul, saying that users had to go in and turn off “safe mode” through their Web dashboard in order to open access to the vile nudity. “Some people are mature enough to see these photos,” 500px Chief Operating Officer Evgeny Tchebotarev told TechCrunch, “but by default it’s safe.” The child porn claims, for what it’s worth, haven’t been mentioned – and I find it hard to believe that this was a real problem with the relatively tame 500px.

The fact that Apple played it safe with potential nudity is not surprising; this wouldn’t be the first time, and won’t be the last. In fact, Tchebotarev told The Verge that another app, ISO500, which uses the 500px API, will also be pulled from the App Store. What makes this all so appalling is that 500px (and, soon, ISO500) was singled out for “pornography,” while a veritable orgy of other apps still available through the App Store allow users to easily access photos in the 500px system, and some that provide far more than the “arty” nudes available through 500px.

Some examples:

I could go on and on, but you get the point: Apple’s App Store is filled with apps that allow access to NSFW content. And not just the tasteful photos you’d find in even the darkest corners of 500px – I’m talking full-on whatever-your-sick-mind-can-imagine kind of stuff. (At least, that’s what a friend told me.) In order to expunge the App Store of all pornography, Apple would have to cut off access to the Internet – something that is never going to happen. And just to be clear: 500px does not allow pornography, as Apple claims. Tchebotarev has explained that straight-up porn is against 500px’s Terms of Service, and is immediately deleted if discovered. (This would also include child pornography, of course.)

All of this could mean that 500px was knocked off the shelf for some other reason – perhaps it was because its age rating was set at 4+ rather than 12+ or 17+ like some of the other apps listed above. Perhaps there was some other, non-nudity problem that we don’t know about, and Apple is just blowing smoke. But I doubt it. Apple has become increasingly inconsistent with developers in applying the rules of the App Store. If your app skims on any lines, it’s a gamble whether or not Apple will bring down the hammer.

Apple’s spotty tending of its walled garden has clear negative consequences. First, for iOS users, it limits the apps available to us. Maybe some of us wanted to download 500px today, and now we can’t for some arbitrary reason. Maybe we want to find hardcore porn – as adults sometimes want to do – but for that, we have to use one of the apps listed above, and I’ve heard from friend that this can be a bit of a runaround, and definitely not a good user experience either way. All of this has been said before, of course. Today’s removal of 500px is just the latest in a long saga of Apple asserting control over its ecosystem. 

What hasn’t been explored enough, however, is the possibility that app developers will take actions like the removal of 500px as a sign that they are not wanted, or that Apple is just too difficult to work with. It could push developers away to other app marketplaces that have fewer rules, like Google Play or the Windows Phone Marketplace, and not nearly as much arrogance. It could, in other words, begin to chip away at one of the things that has made iOS so popular: The superiority of its App Store.

For now, however, the App Store remains king – but Google Play is catching up. And situations like these are what competitors call “opportunities.” How big an opportunity this is for Apple’s rivals remains to be seen. Regardless, at least you iOS users now have a sweet list of apps to pass the time until we find out.

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