Last night, Apple CEO Steve Jobs spoke at All Things Digital‘s D8 conference, where among other topics he discussed the touchy matter of apps being rejected from the iTunes store for political content. Jobs essentially made the case for rejected developers to simply submit the same app again until it makes its way past Apple’s app evaluators.
The context is a story we reported in April on how an iPhone app created by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore had been rejected by Apple the previous fall on the grounds that it “ridicules public officials.” Fiore had thrown up his arms and gone back to his cartooning, not bringing the issue back up until we asked him about it. The news spread like wildfire, and, within a week, Apple responded, inviting him to resubmit his app, unchanged, which was swiftly approved and made available in iTunes. Jobs himself called the original decision a “mistake” in an email to an Apple user.
Then last night Jobs insinuated that perhaps Fiore could have solved his own problem if he had just resubmitted his app, rather than doing nothing in the months between the rejection and winning a Pulitzer. Here’s a paraphrase of Jobs’ comments from All Things D’s liveblog (emphasis mine):
“We have a rule that says you can’t defame people,” says Jobs, noting that political cartoonists by virtue of their profession sometimes defame people. The cartoon app was rejected on those grounds, he adds. “Then we changed the rules…and in the meantime, the cartoonist won a Pulitzer….But he never resubmitted his app. And then someone asked him, ‘Hey why don’t you have an iPhone app?’ He says we rejected it and suddenly, it’s a story in the press…Bottom line is, yes, we sometimes make mistakes…but we correct them…We are doing the best we can, changing the rules when it makes sense.”
The problem here is that Apple sent Fiore an email outlining the rule and telling him to change his app if he wanted in. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the email (again, emphasis mine):
If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.
Why would he think to disregard those instructions and just submit again? In the following months, Apple made no announcement about a change to the defamation rule; the rule, in fact, still exists today as Jobs mentioned. Less than two weeks ago, another political app was rejected under similar defamation grounds. If there was a change, it wasn’t communicated publicly and it is still being dealt with inconsistently. As Dan Gillmor has written repeatedly, Apple has hardly been a model of transparency on what makes it through the App Store process and what doesn’t, and as Apple platforms become an increasingly common vector for the distribution of news, it’s in everyone’s interest for that to change.
The message from Jobs here is that, yes, Apple makes mistakes — but if you want one fixed, don’t count on them to contact you or speak about it publicly. Just disregard that rejection email and just try again.