The case of Mark Fiore, an editorial cartoonist who was banned from Apple's iTunes Store, illustrates a heretofore unappreciated connection between open systems and an open society. And it raises serious questions about Apple's supposed role as a saviour of the faltering news business.It seems Fiore, a political cartoonist, ran afoul of Apple’s policy of not accepting apps that ‘ridicule public figures’.
At least, until he won a Pulitzer, and Apple had a rethink. So, all’s well that ends well?
"I feel kind of guilty," Fiore told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer."They didn’t ‘rectify a mistake’, at all. They corrected a potentially embarrassing PR disaster by allowing this app through.
The trouble, as Fiore noted, is that Apple rectified its mistake while maintaining the right to ban any content it doesn't like from its new generation of closed-system devices.
And why shouldn’t they keep control over their systems? If people don’t like it, there are other
The best-known example of the former involves Adobe, whose Flash animation software has been excluded from the iPhone, iPod and iPad. According to Apple, Flash hogs resources and makes its devices unstable – an assessment shared by many computer experts. Still, you'd think Apple might let its users decide whether or not to install Flash.Would you? Well, just because other companies have up to now, is no reason why they (Apple) should do so. They must, after all, be quite confident that their target base is happy to give up that freedom. After all, their prickly defensiveness is legendary, as Angry Exile can point out.
And they seem to have judged them pretty well, too…
…no one disputes that the company has given us the smoothest, sexiest integration of hardware and software available. (I am writing this commentary on a MacBook, by the way.)Or alternatively, Jobs thinks that the audience has changed. That today’s consumers aren’t as interested in freedom as they used to be.
But Jobs has either forgotten that open systems and user choice are what drove the past 35 years of personal-computer and internet development, or – more likely – he doesn't care now that he has established himself as the Bill Gates of 21st-century consumer technology.
The implications for journalism are considerable. As Jeff Jarvis (and others) observe, media executives have acted as though the iPad gives them a chance at a do-over – to move away from the free web model (even though the iPad has a slick web browser) and instead get users hooked on paid apps. Apple would like that too, since it gets a cut of everything sold through iTunes.As can any company. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the product.
Yet the Fiore fiasco shows that what Apple giveth, Apple can also taketh away.
Media activist and author Dan Gillmor, noting the rapturous coverage given to the iPad by many news organisations (none more so than the New York Times), has demanded to know what guarantees they have received from Apple that their apps won't be killed if they somehow offend the mighty Jobs. So far, the Times has declined to comment, and no one else will even respond to Gillmor's inquiry.Awww, diddums! So he’s having a tantrum, and dumping his stock in the NYT. As he’s quite entitled to do.
Just as Apple aren’t under any obligation to respond to him.
"This is about journalism integrity, and the absolute lack of transparency America's top news organisations are demonstrating by blowing off a totally reasonable question that these news people refuse to raise in their own pages to any serious degree," Gillmor wrote.I rather think ‘journalistic integrity’ is something that’s gone by the wayside, and it wasn’t Apple who killed it.
It was crooked journalists.
Still, at least Dan doesn’t fall into the usual trap:
What Apple is doing isn't censorship.No. It isn’t.
As Michael Corleone memorably explained, "It's strictly business." If nothing else, Jobs has boosted interest in Google's forthcoming tablet computer, which may not be quite as ooh-la-la as the iPad, but which is expected to be wide open both to developers and content-providers.See? Let the market decide.
Journalists, meanwhile, might consider rethinking their love affair with a company that arrogates unto itself the right to act as judge, jury and executioner as to what it will make available to the public and what it won't.So let’s see if all the buyers for the iPhone, iPad and other Apple products agree with you, shall we, and buy Google’s product in protest…
A free society depends on the free flow of information. It's bad for democracy if an admired, influential company like Apple stifles that free flow in ways we would never tolerate from the government.
I’m betting they won’t.