The Problem With Apple News

Apple announced this week that the company is opening its Apple News platform – the company’s latest effort to deliver news to its devices’ users – to all publishers, even individual bloggers.

That’s a huge change. As AdAge tells it, the company launched the news platform with a relatively short list of publishers:

Apple News made its debut in September, with articles from a select group of more than 100 media outlets — including ESPN, the New York Times, the Atlantic and Bloomberg — starting in the U.S. Stories are curated based on the topics and outlets selected by the reader.

In theory, it’s also a great change. 9to5Mac has a post on some of the perks. With a huge amount of news reading happening on mobile these days, some of the perks are nice:

You can author once and News will optimize your content for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, so your readers will have a great experience no matter which device they’re using.

But here’s the problem: Apple has made it clear again and again that when they control a content pipeline, they control the content. Josh Begley, now at The Intercept, knows this all too well.

Begley made an app to share information about drone strikes carried out by the United States. I never used it, but as Wired reported in 2012, it sounds pretty simple:

When a drone strike occurs, Drones+ catalogs it, and presents a map of the area where the strike took place, marked by a pushpin. You can click through to media reports of a given strike that the Bureau of Investigative Reporting compiles, as well as some basic facts about whom the media thinks the strike targeted.

But Apple wouldn’t let it onto the company’s App Store. Why not?

“We found that your app contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” the company e-mailed him.

This was not an app showing blood and guts. As Begley said to Wired: “If the content is found to be objectionable, and it’s literally just an aggregation of news, I don’t know how to change that.”

Well, Apple News is also literally just an aggregation of news. And the company requires anyone hoping to publish their content in Apple News to be approved. As far as I can tell, that process is less-than-transparent.

Here’s how they say it works:

After you’ve previewed your articles and ensured that your content appears as you expect it to, click Submit for Approval, read the Terms & Conditions that appear, select “I agree” and click Submit. Please submit at least one article that is a good representation of the content you will be delivering to News. We’ll review your content, and you’ll receive an email when your content is approved. When you receive that email, return to News Publisher and complete the next step. Once approved, you’ll be able to publish articles without further review.

But there doesn’t seem to be any way to preview that TOS without submitting content, so without knowing what it says – or if it allows any discretion on Apple’s part to bar content for being “offensive” – there is no public-facing, structural part of this content system that reassures content creators that Apple will not censor their work in the same way it does in the App Store.

I hope I’m wrong, and if I am please get in touch and let me know what they’ve done to ensure there isn’t arbitrary censorship.