Perhaps you are already familiar with my thoughts on the state of closed vs. open platforms. Despite thinking that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with the persistence of closed platforms (iPhone or otherwise) in 2010, I do have concerns about Apple’s position as gatekeeper in what has become a leading platform in social media consumption. I voiced my concerns in a letter to Steve Jobs – and, as is so often fabled, I received a response a few hours later. Following is my letter and his response – I was shocked to detect what I consider a rare glint of acknowledgement that he’s not thrilled with the way things are:

Hi Steve,

I’m a customer of many years now – I’ve worked as a Mac systems administrator for a handful of clients here in New York, and I also develop for iPhone and Mac. Thank your for the work that you do, I consider myself very fortunate to be alive in our time, and to witness the richness of our lives deepened by technology – and nobody has progressed this like Apple.

That said, I must to add my voice to the growing chorus of displeasure at the way Apple is conducting itself with regards to content approval on the App Store. I have no gripe with the notion of a closed platform where code is signed and people are who they say they are. The technical requirements  that apps be functional and non-malicious to achieve distribution are fantastic. My qualms are with the notion of “a moral responsibility” to police the content.

With all due respect, the imperative of a “moral responsibility” – at least one determined in a context that is manifest by a sole entity, subjectively and omnipotently – simply does not square with the notion of a company that lives at the nexus of liberal arts and technology. Liberal arts implies reasoning, ration, a tacit acknowledgement that, unlike sciences, there are questions with answers more complex than a simple yes or no, and further that these answers can be dragged out into the light of day, examined, argued against and defended. You yourself have acknowledged that mistakes have been made – but claiming that such mistakes have been “corrected”  is insufficient.  It’s not a matter of correcting the “mistake”, it’s a matter of correcting the system that produces such mistakes.

In a thriving information eco-system, there will be different ideas of what is “objectionable”. One needn’t look very hard at history to establish that majority opinion on such matters is  a poor guide – a point underscored by Apple’s own positioning and support of specific political causes in the United States in past years.  In the absence of clear guidance to the contrary, one can only assume that subjective decisions about what constitutes “objectionable” content at Apple is being made behind closed doors, quite literally according to whims that are up for review only after media outcry. Am I wrong? Please say so, publicly.

Ultimately, my opinion – something I offer to you as both a consumer and a shareholder – is that Apple should be concerned with delivering its customers the best user experience on the planet. Given the nature of our time and your products, that experience is often the delivery of information. If you behave as if you have a moral responsibility to look after  the content of that information, then you assume that moral responsibility and bear it moving forward. I see that as very dangerous from an operational perspective, frankly, and I think it’s only a matter of time before someone charges Apple with responsibility for content in an approved app that ultimately gets out of hand – and I’m sure you’re aware that if “mistakes” have been made, they’ll be made again – in what context, nobody knows.

At it’s core, my gripe is that  when it comes to overseeing content and making morality calls, the position that “porn isn’t allowed ” and that “porn” isn’t defined (in essence, “I know it when I see it”)  is horribly misguided. One man’s art is another man’s porn. Like it or not, if you want a device that delivers the world – and that’s what I want – the whole stinking beautiful world of humanity, broken down into bits and bytes  and delivered to the *best* device in the world – well, that happens to be a world that is full of ideas and notions that some people find objectionable. In the truest tradition of liberal arts, I’d like the opportunity to explore those ideas and notions myself, and I’d like to do it on my iPhone.

Regards,

Isaac Schmidt

And the response, three hours later:

Other institutions like The New York Times do indeed have rules and limits, some of which are decided “behind closed doors”.  We are new to this, and need to learn from others like these who have had a century’s more experience than us.  Sorry if our rambling and mistakes bother you sometimes – they bother us too.  We are doing the best we can (no one has ever faced this exact situation before) and learning the fastest we can.

Sent from my iPad

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