Controversial Apps on the Market

Posted By Jeff Nelson

Photo by GlenBledsoe

This week, an app for parents questioning their kids’ sexual orientation hit the Android Market, causing outcry from consumers and activists alike. This isn’t the first app to raise uproar though, and it’s time to look at the ethics that go into releasing controversial content.

Is My Son Gay?” — the most recent addition to a growing list of notorious apps — is a game of 20 Questions on which the targeted audience (mothers) answers “yes” or “no” to a list of stereotypical inquiries. Gay groups label the app as homophobic. Its French developers bit back, saying their intent was to create “playful” and even proactive technology.

But controversial apps have been around from the beginning. “Baby Shaker” — a game many found offensive for trivializing Shaken Baby Syndrome — was pulled from the iTunes App Store within a week of its release in 2009. And earlier this year, Apple removed the pray-the-gay-away-esque “Gay Cure” from its shop after 150,000-plus signatures called for its elimination.

Apple and Android have screening processes to block unsuitable material from reaching the public —but both continue to release distasteful content. When arguments and allegations arise, they issue generic apologies and leave it at that.

Should we apply journalism ethics to apps? Do you think these apps are inappropriate? Who, if anyone, should be held accountable for them — the developers or the stores? Even if they’re offensive to some, is making apps unavailable to customers unconstitutional? Share your thoughts below.

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9 responses to “Controversial Apps on the Market

  1. I think Android went to far this time. I don’t see how the “Is My Son Gay?” app can be “playful.” I think it’s very inappropriate. While I think the developers of this app are to blame for the original creation, it is ultimately Android that decided to market it. They hold the blame in my opinion. I wonder what the thought process was behind the decision to sell this app.

  2. Correction: In the first sentence, I meant too instead of to.

  3. Emily - Drake University

    I was surprised to hear about this. I don’t use apps on my phone (with the exception of ‘Find a Starbucks’) and I haven’t really browsed the android market. I think this is a tricky situation because what offends people varies immensely. Can app stores please everyone? It’s definitely possible to go too far, and I think that responsibility falls on the store that sells the controversial app. No matter the developer who creates it, ultimately it is the store’s decision to provide it to the public. Still, though, it’s a difficult thing to sensor.

    • I completely understand what you’re saying about it being difficult to sensor. However, when something ridicules the way of life of another human being, it should be obvious that it will offend people. I think it is ridiculous when things like this app are deemed okay, when it is obviously disrespectful.

  4. Emily has a valid point here, they really can’t please everyone. But where do they draw the line? Personally, I do feel this app has gone too far and I feel the app store, being the moderator and ultimate decider of what gets out to the public, is the one to blame. In this specific case, I believe Android made the wrong choice releasing this to the public.

  5. I agree that these apps are inappropriate. But, the source should be considered, especially if the app creator continues to develop controversial apps. Yes, Apple and Android should avoid buying from this developer again, but there are other places that he or she could sell from. The point being, the app creator needs to shoulder some of the blame to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  6. Apple, Android and other app providers have to decide whether they want their name attached to apps that could be deemed offensive or harmful. Their number one goal is to continue reaching a responsive consumer audience, and if the audience responds negatively to an app, then they might consider removing it – they don’t want to be associated with something that will limit their market. (Happy customers=More money in their pockets.) I imagine that these companies do have a screening process, and it would be interesting to know what that entails.

    • I was interested in the screening process as well, so I did some digging and tried to find out about their screening processes, but they’re either vague or not open to the public.

  7. I agree that you can’t gauge how offensive an app is. This goes into a huge gray area, equal to the Miller Obscenity test. I feel that the app developer is at fault here. Even if it was trying to be funny, they crossed a line that should not have been.

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