Nazi themes

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(source: Earlier tonight our friend Michael Gartenberg tweeted that when he went to the Android Market to search for the word “Jewish,” a number of  Nazi and Hitler themes turned up. Of course, we had to take a look for ourselves, and sure enough, the search for a fairly innocuous word related to a religion and culture turns up skins which are disgustingly, hatefully pro-Nazism and pro-Hitler. That’s a problem,  no matter how you look at this.

In the past, we’ve railed against Apple for its confusing, unfair, and often absurd App Store policies, particularly when it comes to the policing of applications based on content, not code.  Steve Jobs has made a point during press conferences to say that the Android Market allows porn apps — which of course set off a furious debate.  Sadly, what Jobs should have pointed out was that the Market allows something far more insidious and damaging than even the hardest-core pornography — apps that spread hate and propagate the views of a movement that is pretty much universally reviled.

And here’s where we have to take a hard look at what censorship really means, and what kind of role it can (and clearly should) play in the new frontier of app marketplaces on mobile devices (and elsewhere). Let’s be clear about this right off the bat — an app store isn’t the internet. It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not an open venue where any type of wares might be hawked. The whole point of these app portals is to provide a controlled service to your users that has guidelines and rules that make getting software onto your phone relatively easy and safe. Whether or not you have stringent policies for what you’ll accept (Apple), or few (Google), no one should pretend that this isn’t a siloed service that must have rails to operate.

So the question becomes: what are your limits? If you say absolutely no censorship, does it apply to hate-speak? If you say yes to porn, does it mean yes to Hitler themes that appear when you search for seemingly unrelated terms? Does being open mean accepting everything? Or do we have to set somereasonable limits for what we will and won’t tolerate? (read more here)

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(via According to the analyst – Michael Gartenberg of Altimeter Group – Google contacted him after he publicly thrashed about the app and agreed that it was “upsetting and violates TOS.” The violation? Obscenity, but I can’t judge that having never installed or used the themes for myself. Obscenity is very subjective, and while I’m sure a majority of folks in this world aren’t exactly gunning to become president of Hitler’s fan club, can you really consider images of the man and the logo he once donned “obscene”? We see it everywhere now, and it just so happens to be in the Android market, as well.

This particular case has an interesting twist, though, where searching the word “Jewish” could lead an unsuspecting Jewish user to the hurtful logo that’s been cursed by their ancestors for decades. Could it invoke psychological distress? Absolutely. But if we consider the definition of the word “obscene”, does the app really convey obscenity in such a way that Google would see fit to remove it without hesitation? Perhaps a slap on the wrist until the developer removes instances of the word “Jewish” from its description would suffice as that’s what’s bringing the app up in search terms in the first place.

If there were hateful words or images in tow, then yes: I’d agree with Google in a heartbeat. But then again, I haven’t seen these themes myself, so only those who had the displeasure of installing it (not many, according to recent market data) – and Google – can truly judge this instance. I’m not pro-Nazi, as much as my commentary might make me out to seem (and I like Google’s judgment, if we’re considering only this case), but I’d just like a bit more consistency in the Android market when it comes to these sorts of things (there are certain other “flags” and content in the market that I’m sure a few other groups don’t take kindly to). Fair is only fair until the top of the food chain doesn’t agree with you, in case any other developer still needs a clear warning.

If there’s one thing anyone can’t deny about the “walled garden” Apple polices, it’s that they at least make it clear what you can and can’t do and will take action before the first user calls foul. At the end of the day, I’m just wishing Google would stop trying to emulate a completely hands-off approach when it’s clear that a higher degree of regulation and consistency to enforce those regulations are needed (and desired, depending on who you are).

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