Freedom From Pornography Is No Freedom At All

Recently, another Gawker Media employee traded blows with Steve Jobs. However, this time, the battle was short and via e-mail, instead of ongoing and legal. The discussion began with Ryan Tate, the Gawker employee in question, asking Steve Jobs about a recent advertisement that claims that the iPad is a ‘revolution’. Tate’s complaint centered around a belief that revolution’s were around Freedom, which the iPad does not encourage.

Job’s reply to this call out on freedom was, as to be expected, very defensive of his latest toy.

Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.

Okay, ignoring the awesome Bob Dylan reference (which Tate made first, but still, great), the rest of the reply is purely ridiculous, as every single ‘point’ he makes can be easily substituted with “freedom from things that I deem unacceptable.”

Programs stealing my personal data? That’s bad, I absolutely agree, but what if access to my contacts database makes my Twitter app drastically more useful? What if I want a different interface for my contacts than what the Cult of Steve has chosen to provide me? Yes, it is possible that providing access to personal data on my phone can be misused, but it’s also very possible that providing that same access will make my experience drastically better. People have done a ton of work on Android which makes it possible for blind people to use a touch-screen Android device fairly effectively. I doubt you’ll ever see anything similar on iPlatform. Apple would have to do it, and I doubt they will.

Freedom from programs that trash my battery? What about freedom to choose to use programs that might hurt my battery, but are useful enough that I can suffer through that inconvenience? I don’t know anyone with an iPhone that doesn’t need to charge it daily anyway (and I know my Android phone needs a daily charge, occasionally with a charge during the day, depending on how much I’m using the music player and display). That’s the thing. What tends to kill your battery, in my experience, is almost always just USING the damn phone. The display is a huge drain, the other huge drain being the radio, particularly when you’re in an area with poor or weak signal. Battery drain is a problem, but it’s not something that anyone should wish to trade freedom of choice for a tyrannical freedom for.

Most distressing, however, is the claim of ‘freedom from porn’. I’m not going to defend Pornography, at least not directly. Most pornography on the Internet is disgusting and degrading, though not all of it is. I’m not going to dwell on the fact that even refusing pornography apps doesn’t stop safari from loading porn, or Safari being set to display Pornography as it’s homepage. Hell, even in the Apple Store, some people will set the default home page on the iPads to hardcore pornography (no idea why they don’t blacklist their wifi). Hell, I’m not even going to dwell on the fact that there are plenty of almost pornographic apps still being sold.

No, those things, which are all relevant, aren’t what’s really scary about Jobs’ comment. The fact is, it’s not about Porn. It never was.

Whenever someone in a position of authority begins talking about the ‘evils of pornography’, or anything of the sort, you should begin to get worried. Because, odds are, they don’t really care about Pornography. But, in American society, where we’ve developed a very puritanical (and frankly hypocritical) view of sex, the vast majority of people will never try to even be seen to be defending pornography. Because it’s dirty. Because it’s shameful. Because it’s wrong for no reason other than we’re supposed to think it is.

Recently, a music industry spokesman said, at a conference in Stockholm, that Child Pornography was a wonderful tool to use to push for censoring and filtering the Internet. Now, I will give Steve credit for avoiding the child porn argument (which is indefensible), however, I’m of the opinion that he’s using pornography as a similar tool. I am not saying that Apple should be forced to allow pornographic applications to be distributed via the App Store. Google won’t carry that material via the Android Market, and forcing a distributor to carry any particular product is not something I’m okay with. However, the control that allows Apple to limit the availability of Pornography on the iPhone/iPad is bigger than that limited scope. The App Store is the sole mechanism to get Apps to the general public (whereas the Android Market is simply the best way to target those users, other distribution channels are possible), and Apple’s policies are vague, and allow them to selectively approve and deny anything they want, on seemingly arbitrary criteria.

Apple wants to be the stewards of experience and information. And their bulwark in this is pornography. However, their ‘freedom from porn’, and their refusal to provide a non-Apple controlled distribution mechanisms for Apps, along with the unknowable rules they choose to enforce on their own store, makes Jobs’ offer of freedom, nothing short of platform tyranny.