Apple censors information about abortion providers – archived source #2

Apple, your anti-choice tendencies are showing in your app store

Jess Zimmerman – Wed 23 Sep 2015 11.45 BST

The rejection of the ‘Hinder’ app is a symptom of the tech giant’s ongoing hostility toward reproductive rights

Lady Parts Justice, a self-described “cabal” of pro-choice comedians, released a satirical app called “Hinder” that lets you left-swipe through a whole three-ring circus of conservative politicians bent on curtailing reproductive freedom. Each pol’s profile has more information on his (or her, but probably his) bad opinions on abortion, sex education and women in general. You can play with it on the Lady Parts Justice site, if you want to (or not! They support your choice). But you can’t find it on Apple’s App Store. Apple rejected Hinder this month, even though its guidelines explicitly allow political satire.

Hinder is an all right app. It has some things going for it – I’ve always maintained that the best part of Tinder is the ability to throw crappy people away, and that’s a major part of the appeal here. Oh look, it’s Donald Trump – SWIPE LEFT. There are also parts that could use a little work; for instance, the taglines that appear on each profile aren’t always about reproductive rights (George Pataki’s is about Isis), which dilutes the point. Also, every single time you swipe left, a box pops up to nag you to share on social.

But being merely an all right app is not what kept Hinder out of the App Store. (If that were the standard of inclusion, there would be way fewer apps overall.) Rather, it’s been barred under Apple’s rule against anything “defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm’s way.” Let me repeat: an app that accurately states politicians’ publicly held positions on reproductive rights and sex education is considered “mean-spirited” and “defamatory”.

Nobody who followed the “Siri, find me an abortion” story thinks this is about “defamatory” content. (If you missed it: Apple’s virtual personal assistant refused to find abortion clinics and occasionally directed people to “crisis pregnancy centers”, which push an anti-choice agenda in the guise of safeguarding women’s health.) And it’s definitely not about a little salty language. This is a symptom of Apple’s ongoing hostility towards reproductive rights.

If you search the official store for “abortion,” nearly every one of the 64 results is either an anti-choice app, a fertility planning app, or (the vast majority) an electronic version of a crisis pregnancy center, offering soothing advice that masks an anti-abortion agenda. None are pro-choice, though a few appear to be basically neutral (offering a definition of abortion, essentially, as part of a discussion of sexual health). This is the real story: not the rejection of this one rather funny novelty application, but the fact that fully two-thirds of the abortion-related apps currently available are overtly or covertly anti-choice.

Anyone searching the Apple store for abortion information will find dozens of apps talking about “women’s choices” and “decision-making,” keyed to crisis pregnancy centers designed to feed women misinformation about abortion and talk them into carrying a pregnancy to term at any cost. “Pro-choice” brings up games like “Choice of Zombies.” “Planned Parenthood” brings up the Planned Parenthood apps – but “abortion” doesn’t.

That’s a big deal, in the same way that manipulating Google search results is a big deal. The internet contains almost everything, and the App Store, though significantly more restricted, contains a lot of overlap and a great deal of dreck (see: “Choice of Zombies,” two and a half stars). Our attempts to make use of these vast stores of information are mediated by search algorithms. If you can’t find something, it may as well not exist. If you want to hide something, teach the algorithm to bring it up only reluctantly, or not at all.

Or, as with Hinder, you can keep it out of the algorithm’s reach completely. Granted, Hinder is probably a little nastier than it has to be to get its point across (you could nix about half the rude adjectives in the promotional copy and wind up with something just as true and more readable). But it is, in essence, a mildly overwrought database. And it’s absurd to suggest that a database collecting publicly available positions is defamatory or putting its subjects in harm’s way. The entire point of such an app is to move its users out of harm’s way by giving them the chance to recognize and reject public figures who mean them harm.

Collecting public information in an easy-to-access format is morally neutral, and doing so for the protection of that public is morally good – good enough, in fact, that it outweighs the embarrassment and, in some cases, even the privacy of the people listed there. That’s why there are 15 sex offender locating services on the App Store.

Apple’s cold shoulder isn’t about the rules. It’s about maintaining a political stance – and hiding anything that challenges it. And while the Siri slip-up was sometimes generously put down to ignorance (why would a company where 80% of the technical staff is male remember that people sometimes want abortions?), at this point, the omissions are starting to glare. Hinder might want to add a new profile.


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