Apple – stop defacing dictionaries and reread Orwell

August 7, 2009

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- Mic Wright is Online News Editor at Stuff. The views expressed are his own -

When Amazon got rightly torn to shreds for remotely killing copies of 1984 on the Kindle, I thought it would be the most idiotic tech story of the year. But I was wrong. Apple’s just upped the ante by banning rude words from a dictionary application – stripping us of the virtual equivalent of looking up obscenities in French class.

Ninjawords Dictionary, a dictionary app from the creators of the excellent website of the same name, is available from the iTunes Store for £1.19. When you go to download it you will be faced with a warning that it “might contain material objectionable to children under 17″. Based on conversations I overhear on the train daily, I think that’s unlikely.

That warning is just the start of Apple’s interference with the dictionary. It’s also made the creators omit words it considers objectionable, such as the “c-word”, as my nan would put it. That’s right app fans, Apple just censored a dictionary.

Go in to any school and you’ll find English dictionaries on the shelf, accessible to children and absolutely chock full of “objectionable” words. Best start burning them because Apple’s made us realise that words can definitely hurt you. Or at least, your sales in the iTunes App Store.

Initially Apple refused to approved the app because it contained rude words, so the developers made it possible only to find them if you explicitly (pun intended) searched for them. That wasn’t enough – Apple wanted them removed completely.

Apple emailed the developers to remind them that: “Applications must not contain obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs etc)…” Finally it told Ninjawords that the only way the app could make it into the iTunes App Store was with a +17 age rating.

Even after Apple had forced the developer to sanitise the dictionary, it was not allowed to be made available to everyone. This confused and contradictory approach to approving apps is becoming a common occurrence but it’s disappointing from a company with the marketing skill of Apple.

In 1984, Apple produced and aired a one time only TV ad. Directed by Ridley Scott, the “1984″ spot featured an unnamed heroine smashing the screen on which a Big Brother-like dictator was lecturing a docile lecture hall. It made major allusions to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and was an unqualified hit.

It’s time someone in Apple got their copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four out again and had a little read. The protagonist, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry Of Truth amending records and articles to make them conform with Big Brother’s will. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Protecting children from porn and violence content is one thing, erasing words from a dictionary is quite another. Come on Apple, use some common sense.

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