Apple has for the third—and what looks like the final—time rejected an app that would send alerts every time a U.S. military drone made a kill. The first two times Apple said no to Drones+, it said it was "not useful" (we beg to differ), then told the makers there was a problem with the corporate logo, report Danger Room's Christina Bonnington and Spencer Ackerman. This last time, however, Apple has given its definitive no, citing "objectionable and crude" content -- the type of stuff that isn't in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines. It's not clear what part of the app is "objectionable or crude" because as Bonnington and Ackerman put it, "Drones+ doesn’t present grisly images of corpses left in the aftermath of the strikes. It just tells users when a strike has occurred, going off a publicly available database of strikes compiled by the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism," they write. (Wired has a video of how the app works.) But it doesn't really matter what part they find "objectionable." Apple's history of iPhone app store censorship has shown that Apple does what it wants because it can -- and it's nice enough to have even told the Drones+ makers its reasons.
Apple has never wanted to key us in on its reasons for doing things because that way it can do what it wanted without explanation. In the earlier years of iPhone app development, Apple didn't tell developers much about the approval (or rejection) process for getting into the app store. In 2009, app makers got overly excited when Apple added a feature that allowed developers to see the status -- that's it! -- of their projects. "It’s the coolest new feature they’ve added [for developers], in my opinion," said Oliver Cameron, maker of the app Postman told Wired's Brian X. Chen. At the time, Chen called the process otherwise "opaque and inconsistent." About a year later, Apple made things a little less opaque, in a way, publishing a set of rules of what they will and won't allow. It still left some "vague areas," in the words of Second Gear developer Justin Williams, per Chen in a separate Wired post. Like this: "We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it.'" We are now seeing how grey an area like that can get, and how the current rules still let Apple do what it wants.