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Apple’s Steve Jobs and Fanboys and Fangirls

This seems to be my day for writing opinionated posts. It’s Memorial Day in the US and, although I am sitting in Canada today, I always try to remember that soldiers of all countries fought for our rights of freedom of expression and respect the sacrifice.

Anyway, I am always worried when things shift to extremes. You know the drill, where worried folks feel the right solution to Facebook privacy struggles is to bail – remeber when growth caused blips in connectivity, people talked about bailing on AOL and Twitter, etc. Whatever happened to writing letters/e-mails/etc. to executives and using associations to contact major information providers and services and trying to influence them through discussion, conversation and negotiation? I’ve seen too many comments online that were so unprofessional (and personal) and lacked the basics like a suggested path or solution. These comments are permanent and are tied forever to someone (indeed, I wonder how many people worried when their tweets were permanently archived forever and searchable at the Library of Congress?). When did toddler behaviour become the norm instead of the last resort?

Anway, I’ve been surprised at the light discussion of Steve Job’s policies and censorship. I guess being the hero of so many Applenauts that he’s quite protected from too much criticism.

For example, consider the last few incidents:

1. Apple cuts then reinstates a swimwear store on the iPhone:
Pulitzer Cartoonist Invited to Resubmit Rejected IPhone App
Apple quietly reinstates swimwear iPhone application

2. Apple rejects an iPhone app for a Pulitzer prize winning comic strip:
Apple’s at it again – rejecting apps people want.
Apple shows it’s silly with rejection of iPhone app from Pulitzer winner

3. Does Apple reject apps that compete with it? or iTunes?
Grooveshark gives up on Apple AppStore, brings streaming music to jailbroken iPhones

4. Apple has rejected apps (and sometimes changed their mind) from politicians:
Politician Accuses Apple of Liberal Political Agenda in App Store Approvals

5. And now the direct library story, Apple has banned books and (sometimes) changed their mind. One book in question was the Kama Sutra (text only) in Project Gutenberg.

Those are just a few of the rejections done because you cannot get an app approved if it involves criticizing someone (you, know like in an election competition or public debate) or if it is considered porn by Apple.

Mr. Jobs has been quoted as saying that freedom also means freedom from porn. That’s a nice soundbite and I half agree. But is this the slippery slope we’re warned about? Are we going to be free of democratic debate and conversations too?

I see a worrisome an disturbing pattern at Apple and you can’t keep a lid on it just by allowing things through occasionally when they attract negative attention from a business point of view.

I’m just saying that libraries make these decisions differently and we’re certainly not perfect. One of the risks in the technologically enabled world is that rights that were established in the public square, on the commons, are at risk. If we elevate any company to a position of trust or dominance, whether you love Apple, Facebook or Google or whomever, and don’t question our rights to expression, privacy, or whatever, we’re in trouble.

People died for these rights. We stand as custodians and protectors of them.

In my fmaily we own two Mac laptops, an iTouch, an iPhone, and an iPad. I find them useful. I use all of them (the iMac the least). That doesn’t mean that I have to stop thinking critically or worry about the power of an app store, a device, a search engine, a social network. I think that it’s time that our associations worked on understanding the real differences between libraries and these device or web oriented content services. A good question to start with would be can the algorithm of the search engines be tweaked or managed to hurt or help libraries?

Gee, this would make a great debate at CLA and ALA this month.

And to my American friends, Happy Memorial Day. Thank you to soldiers everywhere.


Posted on: May 31, 2010, 11:30 am Category: Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I’ve been frustrated about the lack of conversation about this as well. Glad you wrote this post. Wired also recently had a few good articles about Apple and censorship as well.

    This one about the New Yorker app:

    And a more general view:

  2. Easy answer? Those of us who aren’t fanboys get tired of being called haters, so we just ignore Jobs and Apple’s censorial tendencies. That may also be the right answer. It’s called choosing your battles, and it’s a natural tendency

  3. admin said

    Hi Walt:
    As you know I’ve never been into easy answers and I don’t think you have either.
    As a professional librarian and commenting on an emerging dominant technology that aims to be a major player in some major sectors of information distribution like books, music and video, I just can’t ignore that battle.
    It’s in my blood to find censorship by the privileged few (or maybe one in Apple’s case) wrong and not a battle that I can ‘choose’ to ignore. Luckily, I hear that the Justice Dept. is investigating Apple on a number of fronts.
    As I said, I am worried that too few of us and our associations are ignoring this situation. I hope ALA is putting its 2 cents worth into the mix as this is just as important as the Google settlement et al.
    Eventually we have to retire from fighting too many battles, I’m just not there yet and don’t think I ever will be. You never know though. I will die eventually and the Lighthouse will go out.

  4. Although I too am keen to openess and tolerance, if Apple was to become just another porn tool, I’d sell my stock too. I can cut Jobs some slack on this rather minor question of acceptance. It is his company after all. Love your blog.

  5. admin said

    It seems so easy to make a personal individual choice to download the app or not. It’s not like apps are pushed to my iPhone/iPad without my permission – yet. Taking that choice, and the right to make that choice, away from me, because you own a big chunk of the company and I don’t, seems bad for commerce, capitalism, democracy and more. Why should Jobs power trump my rights in public information and the freedom to read?