Drone-Tracking App Gets No Traction From Apple

Play associated audio

Cellphones have ushered in an age of interruption, with apps that notify you when you're mentioned on Facebook or Twitter, or even if your favorite ball team scores a run.

But Apple is the ultimate arbiter of what kinds of notifications iPhone users can receive — and some apps just don't pass muster with the tech giant.

Take Josh Begley's idea, for example. Begley created an app that sends a push notification — or beep — to an iPhone whenever there is a U.S. drone strike anywhere in the world.

Apple blocked it from its App Store.

"They said the app has excessively objectionable or crude content," Begley says. "Which I found somewhat curious, because it is literally just a republishing of news — just tracking when strikes happen."

The app contains no gory pictures or classified information. But Begley admits he's trying to make a political point about these strikes with his app.

"[Drone strikes] are changing the face of warfare," he says, "and there are serious questions. And I think that it's worth having a conversation about it."

Apple, however, didn't agree.

The company routinely blocks apps from its store that it finds objectionable. There's no porn allowed. Hate speech is verboten. In 2009, Apple blocked an app created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist (later, Steve Jobs called that a mistake).

Apple has also removed apps encouraging people to take a stand against gay marriage, and another that promised to help gays become straight.

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, says Apple, as a private company, has the right to sell — or not sell — whatever it wants.

And while Calo says he respects that, he adds that "in these kinds of borderline examples, they ought to be finding in favor of free speech, just as good corporate citizens setting an example worldwide."

As more of our public conversations take place inside privately managed digital communities like Apple's App Store or Facebook, Calo says, these kinds of corporate decisions will carry even more weight.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


From Gladiator Duels To Caesar's Last Words: The Myths Of Ancient Rome

Historian Mary Beard says many of our popular notions about the empire are based on culture — like the play Julius Caesar or the film Gladiator — rather than fact. Her new book is called SPQR.

Internet Food Culture Gives Rise To New 'Eatymology'

Internet food culture has brought us new words for nearly every gastronomical condition. The author of "Eatymology," parodist Josh Friedland, discusses "brogurt" with NPR's Rachel Martin.

After Paris, Obama Administration Changes Visa Waiver Program

Holes in the visa program that allow easy entry into the United States are being re-examined. President Obama is taking steps to tighten the program, while Congress works on a fix.

Amazon Offers New Glimpse Of What Its Drone Delivery Could Look Like

The company says its Prime Air service will someday deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.