Tuesday, August 4, 2009


John Gruber:

In other words, not only must the dictionary be censored — a dictionary — but even after being purged of “objectionable” words it would only be considered with a 17+ rating. Even after agreeing to these terms, it took another two weeks for Ninjawords to appear in the App Store. According to Crosby, “We gave in and said fine, hoping that we could get on the App Store immediately since the solution to their rejection was a simple metadata change. However, the App Store reviewer would have none of that. We would have to resubmit an entirely new binary and get to the back of the queue before they would look at it again.”

Ninjawords seems to be a great app. Interestingly, if you search for a related word it will often offer links to the “objectionable” words, and the definitions for them are still there. I think it’s silly to censor a dictionary, but at least this rejection has some basis in the letter of the iPhone SDK Agreement.

Update (2015-12-18): John Gruber:

Matchstick Software initially submitted the app on May 13. The response from the App Store was that Apple wouldn’t publish it with those words without a 17+ parental control rating. But parental controls — the preferences that specify the age rating limits for apps — debuted in iPhone OS 3.0, which was not released until June 17. And, it’s worth noting, the June 17 release date wasn’t announced until the WWDC keynote address on June 8. Back in May, Matchstick Software knew only that OS 3.0 was coming in the near future.


I believe Phil Schiller that Apple’s policy is not to reject App Store dictionaries for containing swear words. However, it’s clear this policy has not been consistently enforced by the App Store review team. The problem, as I see it, is not that one or more App Store reviewers were unaware that it is acceptable for dictionaries to contain words that are not acceptable in other contexts. Mistakes are inevitable. The problem is that there’s no good recourse for developers to appeal such a mistake. It should have been enough for Matchstick Software to point out that the words flagged as objectionable in their initial rejection are in fact present in several other dictionaries already in the store.

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The question is this, though: why was *this* application rejected, while there are other dictionary apps on the App Store that are not "17+"-rated that *do* include the content Apple found so objectionable in Ninjawords? (Also, what on earth is objectionable about "ass", "cock", "snatch", and "screw"? At least the objection to "fuck" or "shit" is somewhat defensible according to standards of common decency.)

Chris: I think basically anything that gets content from the Internet has to be 17+. That doesn’t have to do with the specific words. I guess you could avoid the rating by making a dictionary app with the definitions built-in.

Michael, it's so not true about the getting content from the internet having 17+ rating. Look at the Dictionary.com app for example. It get's it's content from the internet and it's 4+. Also both Dictionary.com and The Oxford Concise English Dictionary have the "objectionable" words listed in the article. Plus, Dictionary.com has f**k around, f**k off, f**k up, f**ker, etc...

I don't mind rejections/censorship so long as they are consistent. However, Apple seems to be really messing this up and is going to be getting into a class action lawsuit by developers if this problem doesn't get resolved soon.

It takes way too long to develop applications these days. To have your 1 year long project rejected because Apple says so, just doesn't cut the mustard these days. Developers are either going to sue to get past this problem, or move to a different platform making Apple's iPhone/iPod touch not quite the attractive product it is now, not to mention the ads being a little "false advertising like".

Dave M: The description for the Dictionary.com app specifically says that it does not get the dictionary content from the Internet. TidBITS describes the rule about Web content necessitating a 17+ rating.

Sorry, I didn't notice that they were grabbing the data from the site and creating a stand-alone app with it. That's great.

It still has all the so-called bad words that Ninjawords was forced to remove. That is mostly what I was trying to get across in my previous comment.

[…] Schiller was already in charge of App Review, which is a disaster in terms of speed, and he has a history of making misleading statements when justifying the haphazard enforcement of the review […]

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