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Apple removing some apps that contain Confederate flag imagery

The electronics giant adds its voice to the rebellion against the Civil War symbol following last week's racist massacre of nine people at the famed Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.

Game-Labs doesn't plan to change the content of its game Ultimate General: Gettysburg.Game-Labs

Apple has waded into the Confederate flag debate.

The iPhone maker is removing mobile apps from its App Store that depict the Confederate flag in "offensive" and "mean-spirited ways," according to a report Thursday from TouchArcade. Many of those apps, however, are Civil War-themed strategy games, like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and Civil War: 1863, which show the flag in a historical context, similar to the depiction of Nazi imagery in video games about World War II.

"Apple has removed our game from AppStore because of usage of the Confederate Flag," Nick Thomadis of Game-Labs, developer of Ultimate General: Gettysburg, wrote in a blog Thursday. "We accept Apple's decision and understand that this is a sensitive issue for the American Nation."

The Confederate flag, which represented the 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union during the American Civil War, is at the center of a nationwide debate after a white supremacist last week allegedly killed nine black churchgoers. The people killed were attending a bible study class at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, in Charleston, South Carolina. Many people associate the flag with slavery and view it as a racist symbol.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but told TechCrunch it is "not removing apps that display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses."

Calls for removing the flag from statehouses and license plates have come from across the political spectrum, including former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Retailers including Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Sears have banned sales of the flag and related merchandise, such as hats, shirts and belt buckles.

Google, too, has removed Confederate flags from its Google Shopping online retail network and product listing advertisements displayed on search engine results. The company confirmed in a statement that its policy extends to apps in its Google Play app store, but only against those apps whose primary function is to promote the Confederate flag.

"We announced on Tuesday that we will remove content containing the Confederate flag from Google Shopping and Ads. We can confirm that this applies to apps in Google Play."

"We believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism," eBay spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said in a statement Tuesday about the flag. "This decision is consistent with our long-standing policy that prohibits items that promote or glorify hatred, violence and racial intolerance."

Apple appears to be following suit. The company has a long history of scrutinizing software for its iOS mobile operating system that includes gun violence, political undertones, nudity or references to public figures -- forcing developers to alter promotional material or even the games themselves.

Access to Apple's App Store is a necessity for game developers. Apple's iOS has only an 18.3 percent market share compared with Google's Android, which runs 78 percent of the world's smartphones, according to market researcher IDC. But according to analytics firm App Annie, iOS users spent nearly four times as much as Android users on mobile apps in the first quarter of 2015. To date, Apple has paid out more than $30 billion to developers since the introduction of the App Store in 2008.

Despite that, Game-Labs doesn't plan to change the game's content, Thomadis said. "Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical 'Gettysburg' movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help [people] to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money."

Other game makers are trying to find ways around the Confederate flag ban. The team at HexWar Games, makers of the Civil War series of strategy games, plan to replace uses of the well-known 1862 version of the Confederate Flag with earlier, lesser-known renditions, according to TouchArcade.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. PT: Adds comment that Apple isn't banning educational games that show the Confederate flag.

Update at 5:10 p.m. PT: Adds comment that Google is also banning apps in its Google Play app store that promote the Confederate flag.