Apple not telling the whole Phone Story

Apple has removed an iPhone app called Phone Story, a collection of games that satirises the mobile phone supply chain. Can you blame it?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 25 Sep 2012
The game collection from software team Molleindustria is billed as ‘an educational game about the dark side of your favourite smart phone’. That may sound like the worst possible way to compete for kids’ attention, but note that this app does include Suicides, a game in which you play medical staff using a net to catch workers jumping from factory windows. Bleak, but far more likely to sell than your average logistics management simulator.

This may also help suggest why Apple pulled it. Suicides is a clear satire on the 14 successful suicide attempts made at Apple’s Foxconn supplier factory in Taiwan last year. Other games target coltan extraction, child labour, environmental waste, and the planned obsolescence feeding the west’s gadget obsession. And while these targets may refer to the production of any shiny piece of modern tech kit and not exclusively Apple's, its honchos wouldn’t have ignored the fact that the game involves distributing goods to a store with a massive white pear logo on the front.

Molleindustria seems to have a taste for this dark line in satire, tackling oil barons in Oiligarchy, a strategy game about depleting the planet's resources, and the Catholic Church in Operation Pedopriest. Doubtless such criticism didn’t go down too well there either, the difference being that its targets there weren’t in control of the medium itself. Apple’s in the rare, yet increasingly common, position of being curator for material that’s out to take the piss out of it.

No surprise then that having approved the game to go live in the App Store on 9 September, it was pulled only four days later. While many may be up in arms at the censorship, you could argue that companies like Apple are under no obligation to flog products that attack it. That said, freedom of expression tends to be dear to the very hip in-crowd types that made Apple successful in the first place. It’s a tricky path to tread.

Of course, Apple has made a different case for the censorship: it simply said the app violated several of its rules around app creation, namely the depictions of child abuse, objectionable or crude content and promises to turnover a portion of the money to charity (Molleindustria said it would donate all its net revenues to victims of corporate abuse).

Punishing them for donating to charity seems especially odd given the circumstances. Indeed, Molleindustria’s response was to consider two steps: to ‘produce a new version of Phone Story that depicts the violence and abuse of children involved in the electronic manufacturing supply chain in a non-crude and non-objectionable way’. Touche.

And the other? It’s just released the app on Android.

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