People are planning to ditch their iPhones because of Apple’s Talking ban. It’s a terrible idea
In the aftermath of the riot on the U.S. Capitol this week, tech companies were forced to take a close look at how their platforms may have facilitated or even contributed to illegal activity. Twitter and Facebook locked the account of President Trump because of messages that they believed could incite more violence.
Now Google and Apple having deleted Speak, a social media app that became the first free app downloaded at the end of the week. The social network has attracted a large number of right-wing political and media figures because of its hands-off approach to content moderation, contrary to what they say is severe censorship of Facebook and Twitter.
In separate statements, the two companies cited the platform’s role in planning and instigating violence – including the January 6 attack when Congress was counting Electoral College votes – as reasons for the ban.
In a statement released on Saturday night, Apple announced the removal of the app from the App Store:
We have always supported various views represented on the App Store, but there is no room on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to deal with the proliferation of these threats to human security.
Apple previously sent a letter to the developers of Parler stating:
Our investigation found that Talk does not effectively moderate or remove content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to user health and safety in direct violation of your own terms of service.
Because I write about such things, I have received more than a few messages from people saying they are planning to get rid of their iPhones about the idea that Apple is just another tech company that censors. freedom of speech. They are not alone. (I’m not going to link to the tweets as I promise it’s not a rabbit hole you want to take down.)
In short, if you are planning to ditch your iPhone because of it, Google has obviously already removed the app from the Google Play Store, which means that it won’t make it easier to get the app. Google said it didn’t prevent the app from sideloading and it was still available in third-party app stores on Android.
Too, as Fortnite users know, deleting the app from the App Store does not render it unusable on your device. If you have already downloaded it, you can continue to use it. The developer simply won’t be able to deliver new features or fix bugs unless they make the appropriate changes.
UPDATE: Amazon has since announced that it will block the Amazon Web Services app, which will prevent the app from working if it doesn’t find a new cloud hosting service by 11:59 p.m. PT on January 10.
There are a few things to consider. First, Apple’s letter to Parler makes it clear that iPhone makers’ biggest concern is that the app violates both Apple’s developer agreement and Parler’s own terms of service.
Apple and Google have clearly defined terms that they expect developers to adhere to when making their apps available through their respective app stores. Apple points out in its letter to Parler:
We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all user-generated content on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users. . We will not distribute apps with dangerous and harmful content.
Ultimately, Apple is not obligated to distribute an app that violates these terms. It’s not censorship. Nor is it a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights.
I am not a constitution specialist, but I took civic education classes in high school. And as any high school kid can tell you, the First Amendment protects you from government lawsuits against you for something you say. This means that the government cannot throw you in jail for criticizing the president, or your senator, or the mayor.
This does not mean that you have the inalienable right to post 280 character rants from your iPhone whenever you are upset about something. We can certainly debate whether we want the giant tech companies to be the ones who decide what constitutes acceptable “talk” or what we can do on our devices. It just will not be a debate on the First Amendment.
This is an important context because the argument put forward by many people is that Google and Apple censor people’s free speech. To be clear, Apple and Google did not remove Speaking due to a particular political point of view. They didn’t remove it because they don’t like President Trump. At the time of this writing, to my knowledge, he doesn’t even use Speak.
They banned it because the app has become a platform to plan and encourage illegal activity. Free expression is not the same as providing a platform. Apple has made it clear that its main concern is protecting its platform.
The company made it clear that its position was that there was “no room on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity.” Apple is responsible for what it allows on its platform and will not allow any app that compromises this.
The lesson here is that whether or not you feel responsible for the content on your platform, you are responsible for it. This is important because while you may tell yourself that you are just creating a place for people to express their ideas, the reality is that when you allow those ideas to be amplified, suddenly the equation changes.
When you create a platform, you are responsible for its use. You might agree with a free for all. It’s your choice. Don’t be surprised that companies like Google and Apple aren’t.