Apple rejects app for tracking U.S. drone strikes

Drones+ screenshot CBS

Drones+ screenshot
CBS
(CBS/CNET)

Apple has rejected an iPhone app designed to keep track of fatalities caused by U.S. drone strikes for its "objectionable" content.

The company withheld App Store approval for Drones+, an app that sends text messages to iPhones whenever the media reports casualties resulting from a drone strike and shows users the locations of drone strikes on a Google map. 

Apple has rejected the app three times this summer, the most recent of which cited App Store guidelines that prohibit "objectionable" content, according to Josh Begley, the app's creator.

"We found that your app contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which is not in compliance with the App Store guidelines," the company wrote Monday in an e-mail to Begley, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Apple declined to comment on the story, but confirmed with CBS News that they did reject the app.

Begley, a graduate student at New York University, told The Times that he understood Apple's position.

"I totally understand it from Apple's perspective," he said. "They don't want to have anything that could be considered controversial by anyone. I get that, and I understand that."

However, The New York Times points out that the material deemed objectionable in Begley's app is nearly identical to material available on an Apple-approved app from The Guardian that included an interactive map of drone strikes.

Begley argues that his app pulls data that is already made publicly available by Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization based in London.

"It's not doing anything new," Begley told CBS News over the phone, "just repackaging content from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism."

When the App Store was announced in March 2008, Apple said it would vet every single application submitted to the App Store and approve or reject applications based on the company's internal standards. Since then, Apple has been the target of frequent criticism for its apparent uneven application of guidelines.

An app submitted in 2009 by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore featuring a collection of his cartoons was rejected because it "ridiculed public figures." After a public outcry in 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the app's rejection a "mistake," and the app was soon made available for purchase at the App Store.

The company reversed itself again in 2009 when the App Store rejected e-book reader app Eucalyptus that offered access to the Kama Sutra because it deemed the content available on the app as "objectionable" - even though the ancient Indian book on sexuality was already available on other App Store e-readers.

Begley says he has yet to hear from Apple and will probably forgo a fourth attempt at getting approval for the App Store, but the developer will attempt to get an Android version of the app approved. His original intent was to prove that the app wouldn't be a popular download.

Although, the Drone+ app may never make it to Apple devices, Begley's original intent to raise awareness about drone strokes may have succeeded.

When asked about reactions to his story, Begley said, "I'm surprised at the amount of people that care about drone strikes and want to hear about them."

This article originally appeared on CNET under the headline "Apple rejects app for tracking U.S. drone strike" and contains additional reporting by CBS News' Chenda Ngak.

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    Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. Before joining CNET News in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers. E-mail Steven.

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