Metadata+, an iOS app that tracks the overseas U.S. drone war, has been rejected from the App Store twelve times. The news app was developed by journalist Josh Begley to track the CIA’s ongoing, not-so-covert drone operations in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. Today, three years after the Begley’s initial submission, the app was finally approved. But hours after it was published, Apple removed it.
Apple clearly doesn’t find the military operations themselves objectionable. The company profits from games like Reliance Big Entertainment’s Drone: Shadow Strike and the dozens of other drone-bomber games in the App Store. One game’s description reads:
Your Mission: Protect the world from international terrorists—the survival of the free world is at stake!
These games demonstrate none of the moral nuance involved in a military campaign that, most conservatively, kills innocent civilians in a one-to-one ratio with combatants. Whereas Metadata’s most recent news item reads:
Mon., Mar. 6, 2017 (Yemen): Two brothers—Ahmed and Mohammed—were walking down the road. A missile whistled in. They never made 15.
Apple’s walled garden silences not only the voices of journalists but also the thousands of victims, the “collateral damage,” of the global war on terror.
Of course, Apple’s suppression of a news app is chilling but not altogether unsurprising behavior. We may not be living in George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 precisely, but, then again, Amazon did erase 1984 from Kindle owners’ ereaders.
The App Store’s censorship is in keeping with the tech oligopolies’ increasing reluctance to become politically engaged, at least on the side of their users. Do you remember when Tumblr fought back against SOPA? Or when Netflix helped publicize network neutrality? Those times are long gone. Now that these start-ups have become dominant players, they’ve lost their interest in fighting for an open Internet. Today, they sit on the sidelines as net neutrality rules get eviscerated by FCC Chairman and telecom shill Ajit Pai, and the GOP gives ISPs the thumbs-up to sell people’s Web browsing histories.
While enough shaming may pressure Apple to reverse course and return Metadata+ to the App Store, what does it say about a society that lets one company play gatekeeper to an independent press?