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Steve Jobs Bans iPhone and iPad Porn, Becomes Christian Right Hero

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Apple's wonder-working CEO, Steve Jobs, has made a career of giving computer users what they want, often before they know they want it -- and no matter who he offends, be it computing giant Microsoft or the Federal Trade Commission.

So it has been odd to see Jobs crusading to ban pornography from his devices -- including Apple's latest miracle machine, the iPad -- given that so many see the Internet principally as a great delivery vehicle for porn.

Jobs apparently disagrees, and has become increasingly vocal about his views -- and in doing so has drawn increasing fire from the libertarian-minded tech types who tend to populate Silicon Valley and other precincts of geekdom.

The latest blowback came in an e-mail exchange last month between Gawker.com blogger Ryan Tate and Jobs. Gawker has had a contentious relationship, to say the least, with Jobs and Apple, especially since the website's affiliate Gizmodo scored and publicized a prototype of the new iPhone in April, months before the famously secretive Jobs unveiled the latest iPhone iteration.

Tate was angry about Apple's marketing claim that the iPad is "revolutionary," and he sent Jobs a snarky, late-night e-mail saying revolutions are about freedom, and restricting apps for porn or even lingerie ads is akin to censorship. ("Apps" stands for applications, which are the myriad minisoftware programs that Apple users can buy or get free through Apple's iTunes store to help them do everything from checking the latest baseball scores to keeping up with favorite publications like Politics Daily.)

Jobs fired back an e-mail to Tate shortly before 1 a.m., saying his products are, in fact, about freedom, including "freedom from porn."

"[Y]ou know what? I don't want 'freedom from porn.' Porn is just fine," Tate responded (at 1:31 a.m.). "And I think my wife would agree."

Jobs shot back that Tate and his wife "might care more about porn when you have kids . . ." (Jobs, 55, is a father of four, three of the children from his current marriage of 19 years.)

"I'm not a porn fiend," Tate protested. "But come on. I don't think I'm going to fuck up my kids if someone in my house looks at a porn clip."

In fact, well before that exchange -- which finally wound down at 2:20 a.m. -- Jobs had signaled that he would be a veritable bluenose in trying to ban what some call "iPorn."

A codicil in Apple's agreement with software and app developers stipulates that the company can bar applications or any material "that in Apple's reasonable judgment may be found objectionable; [e.g.] materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic or defamatory." And in February, Apple de-commissioned thousands of apps with "sexual content" from iTunes.

"It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see," Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, told The New York Times.

A few weeks later, in an April 8 question-and-answer session with journalists, Jobs was asked about allowing porn apps on the iPhone and he was still adamant: "You know, there's a porn store for Android," he said, referring to the Android smartphone manufactured by Apple's competitor Google. "You can download nothing but porn," Jobs said. "You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That's a place we don't want to go, so we're not going to go there."

Then later that month, Jobs responded to an e-mail customer query questioning whether Apple was acting like the "moral police" by reiterating his anti-porn crusade -- and he took another swipe at porn, and Google: "[W]e do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone."

Libertarians aren't the only ones taking a bite out of Apple over Jobs' position.

Fashion magazines that feature risqué shots as standard fare are complaining they must cover nipples and other bits or risk the wrath of Apple censors who must approve their publications' apps, which are key to getting eyeballs for their magazines.

"The Iran edition" is how an editor at the glossy Dazed & Confused described the cleaned-up version the magazine was putting together for an iPad upload -- a reference to the Islamic puritans running Tehran. The German magazine Stern reportedly had its app yanked from the iTunes store because it runs topless photo spreads, while the German newspaper Bild has added bikinis to its topless models to cover its bases.

But another byproduct of Jobs' moralizing is that the very active Democrat -- he has been a vocal champion of Al Gore, no surprise -- has become something of an unlikely hero to the Christian right.

"How refreshing it is to see someone who actually gets it -- that yes, there are those of us who prefer to be free from the storm of smut that assaults us from every television, computer, and phone screen," Mark Earley, head of Prison Fellowship Ministries, wrote in a commentary for his Christian organization. "May he continue to stand by his principles, and may his tribe increase."

"While some executives try to out-sleaze their competition, we're grateful that Jobs is trying to keep the iPad from becoming an eyesore," quipped Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. That is unusual praise from a man like Perkins for a guy like Jobs, who has been pushed by at least one columnist as a future Democratic National Committee chairman because of Jobs' liberal values.

Still, Jobs' anti-smut stance has also raised suspicions about his motivations, and whether they are spiritual or material.

As a teenager, Jobs was reportedly confirmed in his Palo Alto Lutheran church, which is part of the small, conservative branch of American Lutheranism known as the Missouri Synod. But he has always channeled a West Coast spirit, first as a vegetarian who visited ashrams in India as a young man, for example, and later as a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism. That is not exactly the resume of a card-carrying member of the religious right.

Jobs also has a notorious temper and a potty mouth to match, as well as a burning desire to be first. And even his fans on the Christian right note that Apple still allows apps for magazines like Playboy -- exceptions that Schiller, the Apple VP, excused because they come from "a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format."

Of course that raises the age-old problems of what constitutes obscenity. "Would an app of images of famous classical art nudes be acceptable?" software developer Jamie Montgomerie asked The Guardian.

There is also a suspicion that Jobs is simply acting out of self-interest, calculating that pitching Apple as the Disney of computing will be a smart branding move that will earn him enough market share to offset the considerable loss of interest from those who want to see porn on Apple's amazing machines.

"Mr. Jobs seems to be betting that the attractiveness of his products is like the attractiveness of a glitzy neighborhood: as much a function of what is not on display as of what is," Eric Felten opined at The Wall Street Journal. "I suspect he is also well aware of just how weary parents have grown trying to police what their children see and hear . . . Apple seems to realize that it can do far more box office in its App Store if parents are confident they can let their children make purchases there without strict scrutiny."

For now, social conservatives seem happy to take what they can get, which is understandable given that market economics is not often favorable to their agenda.

"Jobs' refusal to surrender to the Internet's dominating force -- pornography -- makes his claim of 'freedom from porn' quite plausible," Kevin Staley-Joyce wrote at First Things, a leading journal of social and theological conservativism. "Any such exceptionless moral claim requires grit, and can drive away business. Cynicism is easy, and, rather than interpreting this as a mere mercenary appeal to the pocketbooks of family-friendly homes, it's reasonable to think Steve Jobs has simply taken a hard line on smut."

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jt2282105

I applaud Jobs for what he is doing, it is his company and it is his decision. The end result is that someone who cares and who also has the authority and power and resources to make a difference is making a difference. I would challenge anyone on the porn issue; that porn is harmless. If you are in the schools like I am and see young people who have been exposed to porn, to things that are beyond their ability to properly process and assess, and have watched these young people lose their childhood too early, watch high school kids treat girlfriends like ***** or pieces of property, you will begin to understand that porn is not for children, and short of keeping it from being accessed kids will try to get as much of it as they can. Freedom of speech is not meant to give people the right to say anything they want to anyone they want at anytime they want, that is not the spirit of the phrase in the constitution. We have liberalized our freedoms to allow us to endorse and embrace pleasures whether or not they are good for us or our children. It is imperative, that people consider whether or not they would want their young children to watch porn, before they make a decision on whether or not porn should be so accessible. I implore all you porn endorsers, consider what is in the best interest of most of the population rather than what a portion of the population wants in order to satisfy their own carnal desires. And don't forget, the porn industry is not a place you would want your daughter or son to be working in. And just how much money does the porn industry give back to the community? If anything, the porn industry contributes to the decline of our children's growth, it is a major contributer to the dissolution of the family and it drains many family pocket books and it drains family quality time. Studies have shown that many fathers, and some mothers would rather be spending cocooned time with porn than with their children or spouses. This is not a good thing. Look around you, see how families are being torn apart and consider what is doing this. I wax long and loud on this soapbox, but I'm in a position to see the destructive contributions of porn to our society, if you look closely, you will see it too.

June 22 2010 at 10:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
brellaneal

I think a freedom from porn stance is exemplary but that Jobs is taking it too far. There ought to be a configurable iOS system-wide parental protections toggle in the Settings app that would apply to everything from sites blocked in mobile Safari to what apps could be bought/loaded/launched. A password or other mechanism could be employed to allow for parental override when necessary and the settings could be configured to each parent's comfort level. Meanwhile, Apple would need to set up a "walled off" section of the App Store that would also respect the parental settings on the browsing device and all of the questionable apps would therefore be off-limits.

I'm not sure I understand why a system like this couldn't (or perhaps simply won't) be implemented right now. Jobs wouldn't have to act the part of the prude usurping each parents' right to determine what's appropriate for their own kids and each parent would get to control access to objectionable content in whatever way best suits their preferred parenting style.

June 22 2010 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to brellaneal's comment
kennixcar2

@Brellaneal: I believe Steve Jobs means quite well, but unfortunately, I fear this may open up more windows for types censorship that aren't as well intentioned, particulary by the hands of the government, etc.

July 10 2010 at 11:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Todd

So he can ban porn but Apple lets apps through that scam the consumer. These apps are called cell phone trackers or phone tracker. Some tell you its a prank and thats fine but some of the ads completely lie to you telling the consumer that it will do something that it cannot ever do which is locate a cell phones location by putting in its number. I dont get it. He worries about Porn but not issues that scam consumers.

June 21 2010 at 11:26 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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