Was Apple's Bikini Ban Too Reactionary?

An app developer gets swept up in Apple's raid on "sexy apps" and becomes collateral damage for four days before Apple mysteriously reinstates the app.

Culling his junk mail folder, Gerrard Dennis saw an e-mail from Apple that told him his swimwear retail app had been flagged for having explicit sexual content and pulled from the App Store. The e-mail seemed pretty innocuous, a standard letter blasted to the masses.

"To be honest, we thought it was a spam joke," says Dennis, CEO of The Simply Group, a U.K.-based online retailer selling everything from SCUBA gear to ski equipment through seven virtual stores.

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Too hot for Apple's App Store?

A quick check confirmed it wasn't a joke. The company's free "Simply Beach" app had disappeared. Sure, Simply Beach showcased beautiful models in skimpy bikinis, but nothing nearly as risqué as Sports Illustrated Swimsuit apps, which are still available at the App Store.

Simply Beach had been swept up in Apple's raid on sexually explicit apps. Never mind that Apple had already given these apps a stamp of approval. Apple says it was responding to customer pleas from families and women to clean up the smut in the App Store. However, Apple reserved the right to make exceptions, especially for well-known brands like Sports Illustrated.

"There are plenty of sexual apps in iTunes and to categorize our shopping app as one is ludicrous," Dennis says. "I wonder if anyone at Apple even looked at it or just banned it because it contained the words swimwear and bikini."

(Interestingly, Simply Beach images and products still appeared on the iPhone via the Amazon app, albeit customers must search for them in Amazon's swimwear section.)

Dennis reached out to Apple in hopes of getting clarification about the new ban. His queries were met with arrogant silence from Cupertino. App developers advised Dennis to resubmit the app but with an age restriction. "Apple's cavalier behavior is not helpful," Dennis says.

The Simply Group, which employs 24 people, had invested precious resources to build the app. And developers were in the midst of making significant upgrades, such as multi-currency pricing and video streaming. The ban, Dennis says, had "put people's jobs at risk as we rely on all income streams."

Suddenly, four days later, Simply Beach reappeared on the App Store with nary a word from Apple.

This episode has shaken Dennis' confidence in Apple. Will Apple remove the app again in a few weeks on another whim? Dennis says he remains committed to Apple's App Store, "but we will now explore other platforms as a safety net against this sort of thing happening again, either deliberately or otherwise."

As far as the reasons behind the Apple ban, Dennis supports them. He doesn't want children with access to an iPhone or iPod Touch downloading sexually explicit apps and images. It's just Apple's reactionary way of enforcing the ban that has Dennis so riled up.

"I do understand their motives," he says, "although they applied them with the finesse of a club hammer!"

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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