Apple removed drone-strike apps from App Store due to 'objectionable content'

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Tracking the number of deaths caused by US drone strikes in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? There are apps for that. Or rather, there were – until Apple removed them from its app store.

Metadata+ was launched in early 2014 by Josh Begley, a data artist and research editor for The Intercept. It used data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to send push notifications to its users whenever someone was killed by a US drone.

The app was rejected five times under its original name of Drones+, before Apple approved it as Metadata+. A year and a half on, the app has been removed from the App Store, with Begley telling users the cause was “excessively crude or objectionable content” – referring to a specific clause in Apple’s developer rules.

The app used text and maps rather than images of the deaths that it reported, so it could not be considered to be even moderately crude.

A screenshot of Begley’s iTunes Connect account published by Gawker makes it clear that it’s the latter half of the clause that caused the removal. “Your app contains content that many users would find objectionable.”

Begley told Gawker that while Metadata+ will continue to work for people who have already installed it, new users will not be able to download it.

He runs a Twitter account called Dronestream that performs the same role, while his other iOS app Ephemeral+ also records drone strikes, but was removed by Apple after media coverage of the Metadata+ takedown.

Apple had not responded to a request for comment by time of publication.

The company has faced scrutiny before about its approach to censorship with apps – from games about sweatshops, child-labour, people-trafficking, North Korea and the civil war in Syria through to its decision in June to remove games from its store that featured the Confederate flag.

Apple famously spelled out its beliefs that apps should be treated differently to other forms of media and entertainment, in its App Store rules:

“We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App.”

Apple has shown a willingness to rescind controversial decisions – as in its u-turn over nudity in the game Papers, Please – but Begley has not said whether he plans to appeal the decision to remove Metadata+ from the App Store.

Update: Ephemeral+ has now also been removed by Apple:

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