Friday, January 22, 2010

Crime and Punishment

KRAPPS.com has a very disturbing article about Apple's action against the developer of the forChan app. The forChan application is simply an image scraper designed to work with image boards such as 4chan. While many of the pictures posted on these imageboards (which are all posted by users) are innocuous, many of these imageboards cannot be described as anything but the nasty, grimy underbelly of the Internet.

ForChan.app is simply a client to a particular type of web application that is widely used for non-porn images as well as porn. The app scrapes the imageboard HTML for image tags, then presents all of the images from one subboard as thumbnails, allowing the user to view them larger by tapping on a thumbnail. The app doesn't, itself, contain porn or do anything that clearly and undisputedly violates the SDK agreement.

After Apple realized that they let on a dedicated client tailor made for some of the nastiest places on the Internet, they quickly pulled the application. Had they stopped there, it would have been wrong, but not on any kind of epic scale. It would have been just another example of the risk of working in the Cathedral1. We all farm Apple's land, and we all know they have a certain amount of power over us. But, Apple didn't stop there, they then revoked the developer's certificate and removed all of his other applications from the App store. In one arbitrary, unappealable step, they completely removed one developer's source of income and made the product of many, many hours of work completely useless. The reason? Because he "deceived Apple about the intent of the application".

This is unfair in ways it's hard to describe.

What was the developer's deceit that was so bad it warranted completely destroying his livelihood? Well, he um… didn't default the application to show porn, which Apple has decided is the app's main purpose. Despite the fact that the very name of the application, and certainly the description submitted were very clear about what the application does (hell, the application is named after one of the seediest imageboards on the net). Because whomever reviewed the app wasn't savvy enough to pick up on the App's purpose the first time through, they've declared the developer to be dishonest.

I give Apple the benefit of the doubt whenever there is any to give. I have defended their actions a few times when they might not have deserved to be defended. But this is too far for even me. This kind of arbitrary and devastating action is disproportionate punishment and I can't see any justification or defense.

Apple should reinstate Charles Rodriguez's developer credentials and restore his other apps to the App Store immediately along with an apology. I doubt they will, but that's the right course of action for them to take.



1- This is a reference to Eric S. Raymond's classic comparison of commercial and open source software models The Cathedral and the Bazaar.



20 comments:

K. A. Barber said...

Yes, they went too far in there "punishment". Though Rodriguez's offending app would have gone completely unnoticed had he or someone (the details are sketchy) not gone an advertised the application as a pron conduit, Apple has the right to remove the offending app. Removing his catalog and revoking his dev certs on the other hand is clearly overkill.

IMO, they are making an example of him. A cautionary tale that can be whispered to new developers on the platform to keep them in line.

mare said...

So a lesson learned. If you publish an app that could be in the slightest way be viewed by Apple as inappropriate, apply for a separate developer certificate.

Jonathan Nobels said...

Oh darn... I just searched for "titties" using Google Images. Now Apple is going to go and ban all Google apps on iPhones!!

Oh wait... They're way ahead of me.

Eknath Kadam said...

First of all they violated their terms of dev agreement. Scrapping websites is a big no no, its has been clearly mentioned in agreement. Apple has rejected several such apps which violate this clause. 4Chan did two things wrong. 1. Scraping a website and then 2. showing porn images. It can be argued that the app doesn't contain porn images, but 4Chan for sure knew that the website contains porn images. The intent was surely not good.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Eknath:

Show me where in the SDK it says that scraping a website is illegal? You're not allowed to have an interpreter, but parsing HTML and selectively pulling out information is not, from my reading, prohibited.

As for showing porn, the app only shows porn if the person enters a URL for porn. The app itself doesn't present porn, it's simply capable of showing it, like Safari, or any application that uses a WebView and lets the user select what URL to be shown.

Now, whether they should have rejected this app is debatable, but that's not what my problem is. My problem is in yanking the guy's other non-offending apps and taking away his right to develop new apps. That's disproportionate to the crime and unfair, even if this app was somehow violating the SDK agreement, especially given the fact that there are several other imageboard scrapers on the App Store right now that haven't been yanked and for which the developers have not had their credentials yanked.

warmi said...

I don't think assessing their conduct in terms of right or wrong is appropriate here.
If people have ethical qualms about having stuff like that happen to them the starting point for discussion should be the whole concept of joining a partnership with a company that essentially reserves itself the right to do literally anything they want in terms of setting their own rules and following (or not following) them.

Once you are in, you are indeed farming on their land and they have every right to behave anyway they want.

Sure, one could say that this sort of stuff generates bad publicity but does it really matter ?
This is a one party state and people are still clamoring to get in so I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s only response to this was not much more than “so f*** what. .. what are you gonna do about it ?”

Jeff LaMarche said...

Warmi:

I suppose that's an argument you could make. Personally, I think no matter how successful you get, no matter what you do, you should keep an eye on what is right and wrong and avoid doing things that are wrong without a really good reason (aka lesser of two evil situations).

Obviously, Apple can do what they've done, and it's a risk we take tying our fortunes so closely with theirs. It doesn't change the fact that what they did here was wrong, and I don't think we should look the other way, even if there's not much chance we'll get them to change.

warmi said...

Personally, I do think what they did was wrong ..
I just think we are barking up the wrong tree.

If you set up a system where some anonymous people at Apple get to make such arbitrary judgments , they will get it wrong.

While I am skeptical about their ability to do it efficiently, I wouldn’t mind if they concentrated on making sure that whatever ends up in their store, technically and legally meets certain standards because this sort of censorship will end up benefiting their customers.
The problem is they went way beyond that and set up a system where they get to make decisions on what is and what is not useful to iPhone users and , in this case, they went even further and set out limits on what is and what is not appropriate to iPhone users in terms of content they want people to be able to access using their device.

What if I don’t want to keep mp3s on my iPhone but instead I’d rather use it as a handy portable porn viewing platform ?
I mean, I am an adult and it is my damn phone .

This is nothing short of Wal-Mart style family friendly BS …. except in this case we don’t have any other choice if we want to keep using the device.

While I think at this point the iPhone platform is superior to everything else on the market and I really like the device, I am rooting for Android and others to catch up with Apple .

maniacdev said...

Clearly he marketed this app as a porn app. Even if it is just an image browser.

Can anyone give us a summary of what sorts of apps the other 229 are? and how they were marketed?

Jeff LaMarche said...

What does it matter what the other 229 are? They passed review. They were being solid without complaint.

Rejecting the app is one thing, but revoking developer privileges that that were paid for is a disproportionate response unless the app was malicious. For a virus, worm, or botnet app, absolutely. Pull the plug and call the authorities.

But for this? C'mon. It's an app that aggregates images from web pages. It doesn't do anything Mobile Safari can do, the presentation is just different.

I personally agree that Apple shouldn't be dictating what people can do with their phones, but they do, and that's the reality, if you don't like it, there are other platforms you can develop for. But this just reeks of inequity.

rctiger said...

I have had my website attacked by 4chan so I am not so unbiased.

Apple needs more of this sort of thing not less. There are hundreds of shit apps on the store that need purging and if it takes triggers like this to get Apple purging then "go for it".

Frankly if this guys is 4Chan then he gets what he due. As you have point out previously the App Store is Apple's they can do what they like (this isn't the internet).

Have a search on the app store for "alain fernandes" and is apps. Same old thing repeated over and over again. App Spam aimed at some poor sucker that doesn't realise what he is getting. There are hundreds of these guys just filling up the store with spam.

Michael said...

rctiger, what are you talking about. This isn't a discussion about the merits of "crap" apps, it's about Apple's power to essentially to do what they want under the guise of moral arbiter. The worse they should have done was remove the app, make the developer re-submit it with an appropriate rating.

Eknath Kadam said...

Jeff, this kind of email is received when an app tries to scrape and html website.

Thank you for submitting your application to the App Store. Unfortunately, your application My App Sales cannot be added to the App Store because it violates section 3.3.7 of the iPhone SDK Agreement:
“Applications may not use any robot, spider, site search or other retrieval application or device to scrape, retrieve or index services provided by Apple or its licensors, or to collect information about users for any unauthorized purpose. ”

rctiger said...

Hi Michael

I understand what you are saying. But 4Chan are internet vandals and this guy has put his hand up as a 4Chan guy and boasted how he got his pron app through.

If I was running a service and some guy from 4Chan start mucking me about (actually just identifying himself as 4Chan would be enough) then I would use my right to get rid of him.

App Store is Apple's. It isn't the internet/wild west, they have the right to do what they want (if you don't like it then go elsewhere). And if it is to clamp down on internet vandals then "go for it".

I am saying that Apple need to be doing more of this (banning undesirables including app spammers) not less.

This is Apples service that they offer. You don't have any right to it and the quicker people realise this the better.

rctiger said...

QED

the other apps!

http://74.125.153.132/search?q=cache:D39sNua5HPkJ:www.ihustleapps.com/+Charles+Rodriguez&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=safari

maniacdev said...

Thanks for the link.

It could matter, would have to see how these other apps were marketed.

Jiva said...

Perhaps it was because he bragged to gizmodo that his app was "technically the first app with nudity that meets all of Apples requirements (hey, it was approved in under 12 hours believe it or not!)" on January 11.

He also bragged in his description about how his app was "UNCENSORED"... It doesn't seem like this is an open and shut case of "Innocent app used to browse porn" - the guy was promoting it for that purpose.

K. A. Barber said...

@Jiva

Thats what I said in the first comment on this post.

Could it be that in drawing attention to his catalog of mostly "partial nudie image" apps he brought on Apples wrath? I am not arguing morality. Apple could shut down anyone of us for any reason and we would have little recourse.

My question is did he know he was poking a dragon in the a$$ with his marketing strategy? Dragons have a habit of burning down villages.

Scary stuff!!

Jeff LaMarche said...

Eknath Kadam:

The scraping clause seems to be limited to "services provided by Apple or its licensors".

And, as I stated before, there are many apps on the app store that currently scrape web pages in different ways.

RCTiger:

This guy isn't 4chan, he just wrote a client to the imageboard software that 4Chan uses, and named it after them. I'm sure he has no official connection to Moot and his gang of Btards. Guilt by association is no more fair than what Apple has done here.

Jiva & K.A. Barber:

I am not arguing that they couldn't or even shouldn't have yanked this particular app. But even if he was promoting his app in ways that were less than wholesome, there's absolutely no precedent for yanking someone's dev privileges and removing non-offending apps.

From Apple's standpoint, sure, they're making an example of somebody so that others don't try and do it, but it's a harsh and unfair example. You've got someone who is deriving their income from the App Store, has invested more than a year of their life into building those apps, and then just *poof* even though the guys actions are clearly in grey area in some ways? Seems over the top and I do not think what Apple did was right or proportional.

The issue of whether the pulled apps were "crap" is meaningless. I assume that they were. For one guy to create 145 apps (or whatever the number was) in less than two years, they can't all be good, well-designed, well-tested apps. But, that's not the point. The other apps passed Apple's review. They met the rules Apple laid down. If Apple wants to change those rules, fine, but do it fairly, and do it equally. Yank everybody's crappy apps after setting down hard and fast rules about what constitutes a "crappy app".

The app store review process should be getting less arbitrary, not more.

Jeff LaMarche said...

. It doesn't seem like this is an open and shut case of "Innocent app used to browse porn"

Right. Perhaps someone at Apple should have read the description of the app before approving it, in that case. To accuse the guy of being dishonest because the Reviewer failed to catch what he was doing seems like putting blame on the wrong party. If this had been rejected during the app store review process, the guy would still have his dev certificate. Someone at Apple screwed up and this guy got eviscerated.

I mean, simply naming the app forChan should have set off alarm bells.

I think the guys actions arguable warrant a rejection under the current rules (that I don't 100% agree with, but that's another discussion). It's the fact that Apple screwed up, and this guy ended up suffering a more severe penalty as a result that I don't like.