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Apple censors a dictionary app

The Ninjawords dictionary app for the iPhone is rejected several times before being purged of "objectionable" language and slapped with a 17+ rating.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
2 min read

This is just getting ridiculous.

John Gruber at Daringfireball.net points to the latest example of an iPhone application being stymied by Apple's App Store approval process. In this case, it's a dictionary app called Ninjawords (so called because ninjas are "smart, accurate, and really fast") that was rejected three times over the course of two months, mostly because "objectionable" words could be looked up and found in the dictionary's search function, Gruber reported.

It's a new version of an old story, but one that almost seems like a parody of the byzantine process of getting an app past the guardians of the App store. Here's how it went down, according to Matchstick software's Phil Crosby, one of the developers of Ninjawords, as told to John Gruber.

The first version, submitted May 13, was rejected because it crashed when run on the iPhone 3.0 OS beta. Crosby said it was fixed and resubmitted before being rejected again weeks later because it contained vulgar language, that could "be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod Touch users."

It's been established that Apple is squeamish when it comes to so-called "objectionable" content. Earlier this year an e-book app was rejected because it carried a link to "The Kama Sutra," and CNET's own David Carnoy wrote a book called "Knife Music," whose electronic version was initially rejected from the App Store for containing a scene with graphic language.

But the Ninjawords app isn't like an e-book where you have to read the whole thing to get your money's worth. This is a dictionary, a reference guide, where one has to actually look up the word in question to see it and be possibly offended by it.

Matchstick apparently played ball and tried to remove as many offensive words as it could, according to Crosby. When it submitted the application again--this time a whole new app, thus losing its place in the approval line--it was again rebuffed because more words deemed inappropriate by App Store screeners were discovered by looking them up.

Eventually the application was approved, but scrubbed clean of objectionable words and even then it was slapped with a 17+ rating, which will get filtered out by OS 3.0's parental controls. Essentially, the message from Apple, or at least an overzealous App Store approval team, is that iPhone or iPod Touch owners over 17 years old need to be told what kind of words they're allowed to look up on their Apple device.

Of course, the App Store is Apple's domain, and it can dictate what kind of content it wants to sell. But the inconsistent way in which the rules are applied--see here, here, here, and here, for starters--is bordering on the surreal.