Oh the irony: Video of app developed by defense contractor Boeing allowing “minimally trained” people to operate drones by iPhone
Everyone with an iPhone knows there are apps out there that are ugly, poorly designed and just plain don’t work. But according to FDL alum Spencer Ackerman, Apple is applying a new standard of excellence to an app that tells you when people are killed by drones:
It seemed like a simple enough idea for an iPhone app: Send users a pop-up notice whenever a flying robots kills someone in one of America’s many undeclared wars. But Apple keeps blocking the Drones+ program from its App Store — and therefore, from iPhones everywhere. The Cupertino company says the content is “objectionable and crude,” according to Apple’s latest rejection letter.
There are no grizzly images of dead bodies in Drones+, which was developed by Josh Begley, a student at Clay Shirky’s lab at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Neither are there security concerns — the information feeds from a publicly available database and qualifies as, you know, news.
But critical to the DoD’s efforts to sustain itself as the biggest corporate welfare program in existence is its ability to keep their wars media-sanitized. They don’t want people’s iPhone buzzing every time someone is killed in a drone strike. And neither do the defense contractors, who expect drone spending to rise to $11.3 billion annually in the next decade.
Fortunately for the DoD (not so much for you), Apple has a solid history of helping defense operations around the world target their own citizens.
In 2008 Steve Jobs claimed that Apple developed “back door” capability only to protect consumers against the accidental distribution of malicious software. But a hack of the Indian military network in 2012 revealed memos that claim Apple, along with RIM and Nokia, routinely give backdoor access to their devices in exchange for market access:
The memo suggests that, “in exchange for the Indian market presence” mobile device manufacturers, including RIM, Nokia, and Apple (collectively defined in the document as “RINOA”) have agreed to provide backdoor access on their devices. The Indian government then “utilized backdoors provided by RINOA” to intercept internal emails of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a U.S. government body with a mandate to monitor, investigate and report to Congress on ‘the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship’ between the U.S. and China. Manan Kakkar, an Indian blogger for ZDNet, has also picked up the story and writes that it may be the fruits of an earlier hack of Symantec. If Apple is providing governments with a backdoor to iOS, can we assume that they have also done so with Mac OS X?”
What a cozy relationship. I doubt we’d have to look too far to figure out who found Drones+ content to be “exceptional and crude” and wanted it out of the App store.
As Adam Clark Estes notes, Apple’s decision to protect its customer base by purging Drone+ is positively dripping with irony:
[T]here’s no baby violence, naked politicians or kiddie porn in Drones+. It’s literally a news feed from the publicly available database of the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism but with some added features. If the content’s the problem, there must be some political underpinning to Apple’s decision. Unless you think about it from a 30,000-foot perspective. At the end of the day, this is an app that sends you push alerts when people get killed. It’s a smart and noble idea to try and push these drone deaths in front of the public eye, but Apple is a little bit sensitive to these kinds of topics. They don’t even condone zombie violence! If you want to use an iPhone app to actually fly a drone, though, that’s totally fine.
You read that right. Apple’s paternalism doesn’t extend to protecting their customers from actual drones:
As we reported in Monday’s Times, the Pentagon is testing all manner of smart devices, including iPhones and iPads, for action in the war zone. It has kicked off a race among software companies and defense firms to develop innovative apps for future soldiers to operate.
Apparently it’s okay with Apple if iPhones are used to pilot drones that kill people (see video above), it’s just “objectionable” to tell anyone about it afterwards.
Thanks, Apple. I’m sure your iPhone customers will all rest easier knowing you keep the App store free of software that allows people to track the consequences of the dangerous, lethal and privacy-invading drone technology you’re helping the DoD to develop.