Now is the time for Apple to take a defiant stance on hate speech.
Exodus International, a nonprofit religious organization that unequivocally positions itself as intolerant to homosexuality, has a free app available for download in the iOS App Store. The app, which is meant as a guidance tool, a "cure," so homosexuals can "grow into heterosexuality," has been widely admonished. Change.org started a petition that has collected more than 130,000 signatures.
Apple hasn't uttered a word. But why?
Last year, Apple removed an app from its App Store by The Manhattan Declaration, another religious group that condemns homosexuality as "immoral conduct." Though the Manhattan Declaration app sneaked by App Store censors and garnered a 4+ approval rating -- meaning it contained "no objectionable material" -- Change.org launched a petition and it was promptly removed.
"We removed the Manhattan Declaration app from the App Store because it violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people," Apple said at the time.
Change.org's new petition, written directly to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, states: "Apple doesn't allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its app store, yet it gives the green light to an app targeting vulnerable LGBT youth with the message that their sexual orientation is a 'sin that will make your heart sick' and a 'counterfeit.'
"This is a double standard that has the potential for devastating consequences. Apple needs to be told, loud and clear, that this is unacceptable."
Exodus International doesn't just throw around harsh words, either -- the group advocates the use of reparative therapy, a form of therapy that has been rejected by every major professional medical organization including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Counseling Association. Reparative therapy includes social skills retraining, prayer groups, and, at its most extreme, the application of electric shock to the genitals, in an attempt to turn gay men and women straight.
Still, not a peep from Apple. Not yet, anyway.
It's not like Apple is, itself, a staunch religious company, or an altogether liberal one, either. Apple has banished pornography from its App Store and has been granted a patent that will, in essence, eradicate "sexting" by censoring what can and cannot be typed on the iPhone. But the company isn't all garter belts and Victorian principles: in 2008, Apple donated $100,000 to oppose Proposition 8.
Many commenters throw the First Amendment into the conversation. That's missing the point. The First Amendment prohibits the United States government from infringing on the freedom of speech; it does not relate to Apple or any other corporation. And while the possibility of losing their app may be disheartening to supporters of Exodus International, that organization's right to freely express their bigotry has not been squelched, nor will it should Apple give Exodus' app the big boot.
Apple's approval policies for the App Store are muddy, but this is an issue that deserves immediate clarification. Apple has a choice: it can either keep approving derogatory apps, getting flak, and then removing them, or it can take a strong stance against prejudice and stop the hate before it starts.