Apple and Microsoft put the kibosh on a proposed rifle emoji

apple earnings q4 2017 logo
Wondering why a rifle emoji is conspicuously absent from your iPhone’s pic library? You can thank Apple and Microsoft, apparently.

BuzzFeed reports that the two tech titans, both members of the Unicode Consortium — the organization charged with approving letters, digits, and symbols for the encoding standard Unicode — removed several gun-toting characters from consideration in the upcoming Unicode 9.0.

Apple and Microsoft raised their joint objection at the consortium’s quarterly May meeting, according to BuzzFeed. A rifle emoji had already been approved by a majority of members for inclusion in the Unicode 9.0 release in June, but Apple spearheaded an opposition effort. In what one BuzzFeed source described as an “unusual” move, the iPhone maker told the consortium it wouldn’t include the emoji in a future software update to its devices.

Ultimately, the company’s outsized influence — millions of iPhone users send messages containing Unicode emojis every day, and the company retains voting rights — effectively forced the other members to fall in line. (The members also agreed to remove a second, “pentathlon” emoji that depicts a figure holding a pistol among athletes.)

That’s not to say any of the Unicode consortium’s members resisted, necessarily — the decision to remove the rifle emoji was unanimous. And although the rifle in question won’t appear in iPhone or Android keyboards, it’ll still be added to Unicode 9.0’s black-and-white database of characters. But some members perceive the move as an acknowledgment of the increased political and ideological scrutiny the tech industry faces from consumers, advocacy groups, and government.

“We’re talking about engineers that are concerned about standards and internationalization issues who now have to do something more in line with Apple and Google’s marketing teams,” one member told BuzzFeed. “It is a bizarre and unusual situation.”

rifle-emoji

The initial reasoning behind the inclusion of the rifle emoji was relatively innocuous. It was intended to appear alongside a set of sports-themed icons — handball, water polo, and gymnastics, among others — timed to coincide with this year’s Olympic games in Rio, and indeed, Unicode’s webpage of proposed emojis includes descriptors for the rifle such as “shooting,” “hunting,” and “marksmanship.”

The rifle icon faced controversy almost immediately after its proposal, however. In 2016, a British gun control group told the BBC that the emoji would be “familiarizing and popularizing the image of a weapon.”

It isn’t the first time public pressure has motivated a Unicode member to break stride with the larger consortium. In July 2015, Microsoft included a middle finger emoji in its device’s keyboards. And Apple has historically been conservative when it comes to potentially controversial emojis: It excludes the gun and knife emoji from MacOS’s keyboard, for example.

The consortium is considering ways to prevent that sort of inconsistency in the future. New rules, if approved, would require the consortium’s 12 major voting vendors — a group that includes Oracle, Google, Facebook, IBM, Apple, and Yahoo —  to commit to “wide deployment” of an emoji before it could be considered eligible for approval.

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