Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Apple pulls the plug on 500px’s mobile apps over 'ease of nude image search'

The App Store police have raided the database of apps available in the iOS marketplace again, and removed the apps of Toronto photo-sharing startup 500px, 500px for iOS and its recent acquisition, ISO500. The apps were booted from the App Store on Tuesday.

According to 500px COO Evgeny Tchebotarev, those two apps combine for more than a million downloads. 500px for iOS has just under a million downloads, while ISO500 for 500px has a little over 200,000, he says.

By early evening, though, ISO500 for 500px was back in the App Store. 500px for iOS was still absent, though.

Apple's boot came shortly after a discussion on Monday night between 500px and an App Store reviewer, who was in possession of an updated version of 500px for iOS.

According to the reviewer, the update could not be approved because it allowed users to search for nude photos in the app. This is both correct and incorrect, explained Tchebotarev. In order to search for nude images -- and unlike photo-sharing services like Instagram and Tumblr, Tchebotarev said, a new user had to visit the company's desktop website and make an explicit change to his or her settings.

Otherwise, the app defaulted to a “safe search” mode where these types of photos are hidden.

Tchebotarev said the company proactively did this because they don’t want users to accidentally come across these nude photos. “Some people are mature enough to see these photos, but by default it’s safe.”

In addition, the "nude" photos on 500px explicit and not necessarily the same type of nude images that Apple is famous for objecting to, meaning they're not pornographic in nature. “We don’t allow pornographic images. If something is purely pornographic, it’s against our terms and it’s deleted,” Tchebotarev said.

Nudity on 500px instead are those from professional photographers and other photo enthusiasts, and are of an “artistic” nature. “It’s not about pornography; it’s about fine art," he said.

500px has changes in the works that will allow the software to automatically recognize nude images, so that they will never appear in search. It's not ready for prime time yet, so for now the company relies on its community to identify inappropriate images that appear.

The company told Apple it would make changes that were suggested to address the issue the reviewer raised, but although 500px said this was expected to take a day, Apple couldn't wait, and booted the apps. The planned change will automatically excise the problem in the dozen or so third-party applications using the 500px API, including big names like Flipboard and Google Currents.

It's not the first time Apple has booted an app for nudity or inappropriate content uploaded by its end users. In February of 2012, the popular video-sharing app Viddy was removed from the App Store for similar reasons. It was later restored.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs once defended the App Store approval process, saying that "Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone." When making these sorts of decisions and statements, Apple always conveniently ignores the fact that Safari is just as good at browsing for porn.

Apple provided an official statement on why 500px was removed from the App Store:
The app was removed from the App Store for featuring pornographic images and material, a clear violation of our guidelines. We also received customer complaints about possible child pornography. We’ve asked the developer to put safeguards in place to prevent pornographic images and material in their app.
500px for iOS had been in the App Store for 16 months.

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