1984 Redux: A Cautionary Tale

…or; Why You Can’t Trust the Gatekeeper

Go read this article, then come back.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

While this post is mostly directed at Apple, it also applies (albeit to a lesser degree) to other platforms; MS, Google, and Amazon come quickly to mind.

For those who find the above linked NY Times article too long to read, I’ll briefly sum up the controversy.  A developer submitted an app to Apple for inclusion in the iDevice store.  The app tracked US drone strikes around the world and presented them to the user in an interactive map.  Nothing overly controversial here, many newspapers periodically publish such maps.

Apple rejected the app allegedly due to not being “useful or entertaining enough”.  The developer worked some more on the app, adding more useful and/or entertaining features and dutifully resubmitted the app.  This time Apple rejected the app for sullying the iPhone interface with a Google logo.  Back to the drawing table went the developer, he refactored the Google logo, finding the balance between giving credit to the maps provider and not sullying Apple’s devices.  He then resubmitted the app to Apple, fairly certain that his app would soon be published to the app store.

Only it wasn’t…and it never will be.  Apple’s censors rejected the app for having “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

This raises the question of whether technology companies should be the gatekeepers of what is news, what is objectionable, or any other question of societal import.

And if it was just Apple we could dismiss it as just one mega-maniacal corporation exerting undue control over what news and information its users are allowed to consume.  But app stores are fast becoming the norm.  Google’s Android Market, while much more open and transparent than Apples, still has control over what gets into the market.  Amazon has a similar store, closer to Apple’s in its control freakery, but still a fairly niche affair, thus attracting less scrutiny.  Microsoft also has a mobile store, also fairly tightly controlled.

These mega-corporations will tell you that mobile is special, that the user experience must be tightly controlled to maintain the carrier’s networks, maintain battery life, preserve user experience, etc…ad nauseum.

Then they move onto the desktop.  No relaxing of control, still the same harsh censorship of their mobile stores brought home to the desktop.  And that is when the facade crumbles.  The store censoring has nothing at all to do with the stated reasons.  When all else has been stripped away, we are left with the true reason, control.  Control of the information and data that a user can take in.

Apple and Microsoft together account for more than 99% of desktop computer usage.  While both of their desktop app stores are in their infancy, it is no challenge to see where they are going.  The trend is there for all who willing to open their eyes and see, tighter intertwining of the mega-corporate tech companies and the State.  “Keep your regulations soft and ineffective, and I will deliver the populace to you in a way not even imaginable in the most dystopian of novels.”

And that is where you arrive if you take recent trends and project them to their logical conclusions.  A sort of self-chosen soft-fascism.

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
–Joseph Goebbels

To the press we can also add our gadgets and other technological wizardry which can increasingly monitor and/or report our likes, dislikes, location, preferences, associations, political ideology, entertainment choices, communications and virtually every single thing that we do.

It is truly a brave new world; the question is who we are going to allow to control it.


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