Monday, May 10, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Epic v. Apple, Day 5

Adi Robertson (tweet, also: Nick Statt, Elizabeth Lopatto, Ian Sherr):

On the fifth day of court, however, Apple tried to turn Itch.io into a liability — by telling Epic Games Store general manager Steven Allison about “so-called adult games” that were “so offensive we cannot speak about them here.”

Itch.io is one of relatively few non-game apps on the Epic Games Store, along with software like the Brave browser.

[…]

Apple essentially warned Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that [sideloading] would mean forcing Apple to indirectly allow a sexualized visual novel about incest […] onto the iPhone.

Of course, such content is already available on iPhone via Safari, and via third-party apps such as Web browsers, site-specific browsers, and e-book readers. Making it available via a third-party store would improve the user experience without changing what’s shown in Apple’s own store.

Judge Rogers seemed to take the concern seriously, asking Allison to explain whether Apple was correct. Allison demurred, although he later pushed back on Apple’s veiled suggestion that Epic kick Itch.io off the Epic Games Store. “Itch.io is an incredible community for developers that we support fully,” Allison said, “they have an open platform, and therefore have different moderation standards than the Epic Games Store.”

[…]

Some people were upset at Apple going after a platform that’s particularly favored by queer developers offering depictions of sexuality you won’t find in big-budget games.

Nathan Grayson (via Hacker News):

It began as part of a series of inquiries in which Apple’s lawyer was attempting to establish Epic’s quality control process (or lack thereof).

[…]

Allison replied by pointing out that itch.io is on Epic, but it is not, itself, the Epic Games Store. “Itch.io is an app store that is not the Epic Games Store. We are not included in itch’s distributing pitch,” Allison said. “Epic is only distributing the app store of itch.io.”

Kenney:

According to Apple unspeakable things happen at Itch.io. Like developers uploading any game they create, getting a fair share of revenue, consumers getting DRM-free content and even having an optional launcher...

That must be truly a ghastly sight for Apple. 👻

See also: Apple Sucked Tumblr Into Its Walled Garden, Where Sex Is Bad.

Nick Statt:

Very critical line of questioning from the judge, about whether Apple’s lack of competition on iOS for app stores stifles innovation in in app review.

Adi Robertson:

Epic’s lawyer is back and redirecting to macOS — pointing out that people can directly download apps from outside Apple’s store there, but it’s still considered safe for kids etc.

“I think there’s safety on Mac that’s superior” when downloading from App Store. “The threats that we see on iOS even within the App Store, I can’t say that a user outside the Mac App Store has a safe and trusted experience.”

Elizabeth Lopatto:

Roblox is not a game, but Minecraft was, Kosmynka said yesterday. “I’m having a hard time with that.” Roblox looks like electronic Duplos, the judge says. “I’m trying to understand what the distinction you’re making is.”

Ian Sherr:

App Review is within developer relations. Apple has an internal mantra “let’s get them to yes!” To help apps get approved.

“There’s a human being at the end of every rejection,” he says, so devs can call and work with Apple

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Hands up how many developers have called and ‘worked with Apple’ to get an app through App Review? In the calls that I’ve had, it was a lot more one-sided, and finding out how to address/fix a rejection at that level is like trying to get blood from a stone

Previously:

17 Comments

“ Making it available via a third-party store would improve the user experience without changing what’s shown in Apple’s own store.”

Dude, are you really making an argument for improving the user experience of people downloading incest videos? What’s next? Let me help you with that human trafficking ring you’re running? Come on.

@Total I’m not sure whether your or Apple’s characterization of the content is accurate. I assume they found the most objectionable sounding game to highlight in order to throw the other 199,999, most of which are not even adult themed, under the bus. In any case, I think you’re presenting a fallacy because you could say the same thing about any general-purpose tool.

They decide to use Itch.io which is not EPIC's App Store to attack EPIC, and suggest Itch.io is a store only for adult content because of a few apps's "name".

What about the the "actual" scam that App Store is currently hosting?

The amount of hypocrisy from Apple is off the chart. The decade since Steve Jobs passed away is the worst period in Apple's ideology.

Curious the attack by Apple on Itch.io when the argument then shifted to whether Roblox is a game or not.

I've got two boys in the age group for Roblox. I won't let them play it.

When my youngest asked me if he could install it I sat down to check it out. It took me all of two minutes to find disturbing sexualised content that shocked me as a 41 year old man let alone my 8 year old son.

Further digging revealed Roblox is a hotbed for this type of content as well as predators targeting children. It is a cesspool.

Whether Apple wants to label Roblox as it is a game or an app it doesn't change the fact they promote it heavily to parents as an innocent game suitable for their kids. It is anything but. Hypocrites.

"Dude, are you really making an argument for improving the user experience of people downloading incest videos?"

Are you genuinely making a good-faith argument, and you just don't understand the point, or are you intentionally mischaracterizing what is being said? As far as I can tell, nobody has even mentioned anything about incest videos. Apple mentioned a "sexualized visual novel about incest", not incest videos.

I'm actually not sure what exactly Apple is referring to when they talk about a "sexualized visual novel about incest". Itch.io has a large section of adult content (as they should have - Apple is the one at fault here by just disallowing this content outright) which cover a lot of different topics. But all of the games I've seen has been thoughtful and interesting. My guess is that Apple is misrepresenting what the visual novel they're referring to actually is.

"Let me help you with that human trafficking ring you’re running?"

The reason why slippery slope arguments are usually described as fallacies is precisely because they're often being used in the way you're using them right now: to misrepresent what is actually being discussed.

At any rate, Apple's point is nonsensical. Sure, you can download Itch.io from the Epic Games Store, and see (comparatively tame) sexual content. You can also download Chrome from the App Store, and see *actual* incest videos. By Apple's own measure, their own store is way worse than Epic's.

Update: After reading some transcripts, I saw which game Apple is talking about. It's Sisterly Lust, which is so tame that you can also get it on Steam. I'm sure the dev is happy for their new-found fame, though.

I took one for the team and downloaded it. It's indeed a visual novel, and it's actualy pretty hilarious, in part thanks to the terrible character models. I can also confirm that it is not "incest videos".

If that's the absolute worst Apple can find, I'm a little bit disappointed. The feigned outrage on Apple's side is quite grating, though.

Old Unix Geek

I'm somewhat surprised no one is bringing up the elephant in the room: Apple is arguing that the fact Epic is not censoring itch.io is outrageous. Who appointed large US corporations the arbiters of truth and morality?

Western Societies should debate whether large US corporations should be able to set the tone for what can and can't be done on the devices they manufacture or control.

Apple and Google clearly believe their "App Stores" should conform to US norms: "good clean violence and no dirty sex". Violence is not clean: it's how things are destroyed. Sex is not dirty... it's how the natural world perpetuates.

Those games/experiences on itch.io aren't to my taste, but I'd be surprised if indulging one's fear/horror/aggression mental circuits by living inside a violent game for long periods of time is any better for people than indulging one's passion circuits living inside these itch.io fake worlds. Non-puritan societies should be free to make other trade-offs.

Currently web browsers on iOS and Android allow free access to the internet. Google search does however "review" websites. For instance, the world socialist website wsws.org is one of those that is no longer found, for reasons that appear entirely political. Scientists debating the intricacies of COVID on social networks have found themselves "corrected" by "fact-checkers" who only have an undergrad degree in journalism or media studies.

Since Web browsers phone home to check whether "this website is dangerous for your computer", it would be very simple to change them to prevent pages expressing certain viewpoints from be accessed. In the case of iOS, there would be no workaround if this functionality were built into WebKit, which all 3rd party browsers must use. Again, this type of censorship is already being done with the App Stores.

We should be asking whether this something that our societies are comfortable with? We laugh at China, with their "Communist Youth League of China", and other groups that position themselves as patriotic tone setters. But we seem happy to let large corporations determine our social mores. Letting the powerful decide what people should think is a step backwards to my eyes.

Kevin Schumacher

I don't think they're arguing that Epic should be forced to censor them or something like that. Rather, they're pointing out that Epic is hosting this thing and trying to get Epic to admit to hosting this thing (the lengths that Epic is going to to avoid admitting that they have pornography on their store is absurd), and saying that if they were forced to allow other stores, or especially stores-within-stores, that it would result in content like that being easily available to users of their devices, which they don't want.

Whether the decision is right or wrong, as a company, I think they get to make the decision of what is available on their app store in terms of sexual content. If it's found that they should have to open up and allow other stores or sideloading (and not simply that they have to accept e.g. itch.io as a store-within-a-store in the official Apple Store) then they don't get a say in what you install on your device from another source.

As far as violence in video games, despite years of trying by many politicians looking to score cheap points with scared mothers, there has not been a single credible study showing a link between playing violent video games and the player being prone to increased violence. (There has been a small link shown in at least one study between short-term increased aggression, like shouting or cursing, and playing violent video games, but cursing is not violence.) And in fact, there are studies showing that violent behavior is reduced by having a stress relief outlet like killing zombies in a video game.

Meanwhile, speaking as someone who does indulge in pornography, I am also aware of studies showing that viewers of large amounts of pornography are more likely to mistreat women. I don't know of any studies addressing sex in video games.

So while I certainly think US culture is backwards on the ratio of nudity (and to a degree, sex) to violence that is tolerated, I'm not at all convinced by your conclusion that "indulging one's fear/horror/aggression mental circuits by living inside a violent game for long periods of time is any better for people than indulging one's passion circuits living inside these itch.io fake worlds."

@Kevin But Epic really isn’t hosting pornography in their store, any more than Apple is due to iOS containing Safari.

Old Unix Geek

Kevin, I'll grant you that is probably difficult to determine the effect of any particular game. The only game depicting violence that I wandered around in was Quake, and I ignored the violence. I was mostly fascinated by how well Michael Abrash & John Carmack's 3D engine worked... So I'm not a good reference. I don't like violent games and avoid them.

However, my guess would be that depictions of violence towards women in porn would have different effects to depictions of love entwined with lust. Which is depicted more varies according to culture. I'm not aware of any evidence that French women are mistreated more than their American counterparts, even though nudity and sex on TV is much less taboo in France... but it seems to tend to be of the falling in love kind, not the 50 shades of grey variety.

It seems relevant that the US rate of intentional homicide is 4.96 ( https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/murder-homicide-rate ), whereas that of France is 1.20 ( https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/FRA/france/crime-rate-statistics ). I expect that some of this difference in homicide rate is due to cultural differences, some of which includes people's attitudes to depictions of violence and sex.

My point is that cultures that wish not to be Americanized, should be debating whether allowing US corporations to determine what their citizens are exposed to is a good idea. And that people in the US might also want to consider that question too.

FWIW, Epic isn't technically hosting itch.io content. Only itch.io's store which in of itself is about as offensive as a can-opener. Secondly anyone can access horrific things using Safari much more easily than they can by downloading yet another app-store and searching in that. So I find Apple's argument that Epic's hosting of itch.io's store somehow allows people to access such things more easily that they could otherwise, rather unconvincing.

Kevin Schumacher

@Michael To me there's a difference between the web as a whole, and an app/store that has some level of registration or other process to be incorporated into. For example, I would contend that Apple is indirectly hosting pornography by having the Twitter app available through the App Store. For the record, I'm not against having the Twitter app present (or Tumblr, back in the Before Times, or Discord, or whatever else). But I think if you are incorporating a product which allows pornography to be present, then you're ultimately hosting pornography.

The internet/Safari is different because there is no process by which you are being selected for inclusion in a subset of available content (which, regardless of how loose or tight itch.io's rules are, they still do not allow every possible game to be sold). The Epic Games Store, Apple's App Store, and itch.io's store all have some level of exclusion of content that, for one reason or another, they do not want. So long as you can purchase a share on or operate a server and register a domain name (and evade authorities, in some cases), there really isn't any exclusion as to what is available on the web.

Epic's argument is that since they don't control itch.io's selection procedures, that they are not hosting pornographic content. Which, directly, they are not. But by including itch.io's store, and allowing all content from that store to be sold through the itch.io client available in the Epic Games Store, they are saying "We understand what exists in itch.io's store and we are comfortable providing that to our customers." The fact that they don't want to admit to knowing what's there means they're either negligently incompetent or perjuring themselves.

The ironic thing with Epic is they are extremely selective about what goes in their games store, vastly more so than even Steam. So even setting aside Sweeney's early admission that this is really completely about Epic (admitting that they would have accepted a special deal from Apple), to sit and claim that they're all about being open and anybody's welcome is absolute bullshit.

And finally--then I'll get off my soapbox--the itch.io thing is a massive red herring, anyway. There is literally no benefit to anyone to having an itch.io client in the Epic Games Store. This is not an iPhone, where you cannot otherwise access the client if it's not in the Apple App Store. Anyone who wants to is able to use the computer they are already on, go to itch.io, and download the client without having to let Epic know that they did it. If it's actually entirely separate and they're just literally hosting the itch.io client, what possible benefit does someone have from downloading it from Epic? If Epic wants to promote itch.io, throw up a banner ad. Putting itch.io in the EGS is entirely about optics during this trial and that's it.

@Kevin I just don’t buy the argument that offering Twitter or Itch for download is “hosting” porn because those services have some level of review, whereas hosting Chrome or another completely unmoderated app is not.

I believe the hypothetical was mentioned that if Apple allowed an Epic Games Store for iOS, it would be able to offer an Itch app. Then the benefit would be that the client is available, whereas perhaps Apple wouldn’t allow it in the App Store. But this is all hypothetical since no iOS (or even Android, I think) app exists at the moment.

"And in fact, there are studies showing that violent behavior is reduced by having a stress relief outlet like killing zombies in a video game."

I've never seen a properly done study showing anything like that. In fact, studies generally show the opposite, that it is *not* possible to reduce aggression by playing out aggressive behavior. Playing out aggressive behavior is either inconsequential, or it is a way of learning to behave aggressively (that's what play is - kittens don't play with toy mice to become less aggressive, they do it to learn how to kill real mice).

And, like you point out, there is very good evidence that violent videogames increase short-term aggressive behavior. The scientific consensus seems to be that, if violent videogames do cause real-world violence, the effect is very small, so it's not a cause for concern. Old Unix Geek's point is still valid: many of the people playing these games might be better off watching some porn. But from Apple's strange point of view, porn is bad, and users must be protected from it, while violence is great, and should be promoted.

"Western Societies should debate whether large US corporations should be able to set the tone for what can and can't be done on the devices they manufacture or control."

I think that *is* what is being debated, it's just that the debate isn't whether Apple should be allowed to restrict what appears in their store (they should), but whether Apple should have the ability to restrict other means of installing apps on their systems (they should not).

One of the issues with the App Store is precisely that it is full of trash, that discovery doesn't work, that there are tons of scams, and that it is very easy for clone apps to push out properly maintained, well-developed apps. If anything, Apple needs to be a lot more restrictive, not more lenient.

Obviously, I do have opinions about exactly what should be removed from the App Store, and what should be allowed, but I don't think that there should be no rules at all.

However, Apple also needs to provide other means of installing apps that circumvent their rules.

"But by including itch.io's store, and allowing all content from that store to be sold through the itch.io client available in the Epic Games Store, they are saying "We understand what exists in itch.io's store and we are comfortable providing that to our customers."

By that same logic, is Apple saying that they are comfortable with everything that exists on the Internet?

The whole Itch thing is just an odd point to make to begin with. Apple doesn't like porn, and doesn't want people using iOS to even have the option of installing any kind of app that is remotely connected to porn in any way. That's not a good point for them to make, that's the whole problem!

Although I disagree with their decision, Apple has every right to not have porn in their own App Store. But that they have the ability to prevent every iOS user across the whole world from even having the option of installing porn apps, that's something nobody should be happy with.

Kevin Schumacher

@Michael "But this is all hypothetical since no iOS (or even Android, I think) app exists at the moment."

(emphasis mine) That's a pretty telling point. You have to remember, this is the company that originally had Android users sideloading Fortnite to avoid Google's commission in the Play Store. But this many years later, there is no EGS or even the hint of one, either sideloaded or in the Play Store. Which to me says that they really have no interest in doing that, that this is entirely about Epic and money, and that's it. (Ironically, there are games on itch.io for Android, whereas aside from a port of Fortnite, there are no Android games on EGS.)

@Plume "By that same logic, is Apple saying that they are comfortable with everything that exists on the Internet?"

Again, I don't buy that that's the same thing. Providing unfiltered internet access (at least to adults) is table stakes for a computing device. There is no way the iPhone is the iPhone today if it had an Apple filter on the web browser that couldn't be removed. They don't limit the internet in any way, just as no other device maker does. There are certainly sizable portions of the internet Apple would really like to not talk about, but by taking a completely hands-off approach, they are just providing a window, and what comes through that window is whatever the user reaches out and grabs.

Having a moderated store, on the other hand, says you are explicitly comfortable providing that content to your users. Just like Apple is apparently comfortable allowing some scam apps--the ones that are making them money--to exist on the App Store.

"Again, I don't buy that that's the same thing"

The only difference you point out are Apple's incentives, I don't think that is relevant. What is relevant is Apple's behavior.

"Having a moderated store, on the other hand, says you are explicitly comfortable providing that content to your users"

Right. So Apple is explicitly comfortable providing browsers in their App Store that can access actual porn.

Kevin Schumacher

Apple provides access to apps that can access actual porn, too. I said that previously. I even said that Apple is essentially hosting pornography in their store, based on that.

I have no idea what you mean by "Apple's incentives". Safari is a web browser that provides access to all websites. The App Store, which has some level of curation applied to it and does not provide access to any websites, is not a web browser. I don't understand how you don't understand the difference between those two things.

My point, which you are still missing, is that Epic is arguing that they are not hosting pornography, when they clearly are--again, indirectly--and by extension, are either negligently incompetent or flat-out lying when they say they don't know what's available on itch.io. Apple is not claiming to be unaware of the contents of the internet, nor are they claiming that you cannot access pornography through it.

@Kevin The App Store includes third-party Web browsers. The browser apps are curated, but the content they let you access is not. So the App Store providing access to Web sites indirectly through those apps is analogous to the Epic store providing access to content indirectly through the Itch app. So Apple is being disingenuous when it attacks Epic for what apps in its store do when apps in the App Store provide access to the same types of content, and more. Epic isn’t lying; it just doesn’t think that indirectly providing access is “hosting.” And I bet if Apple’s execs were asked whether they App Store “hosts” porn, they would say “no,” too.

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