Editorial: Apple’s Porno Podcasts, Explicit and Unlabeled | iLounge Article

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Editorial: Apple’s Porno Podcasts, Explicit and Unlabeled

With the advent of iTunes 4.9 and its support for podcasts, Apple has now become a purveyor of a wide variety of audio programs. From amateur audioblogs to professional radio programs, covering subjects from science to business, from sports to news, there are over 3,000 podcasts available for free through the iTunes Music Store. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a pretty big selection of pornographic content, too.

Though salty language in adult-oriented podcasts isn’t entirely unexpected, some of these podcasts can get seriously raunchy - in language, subject matter, or both. Names such as Open Source Sex, Rope Weekly (about bondage), GayPorn Talk, or Seduction & Strip Clubs may catch your attention, and none of these podcasts have Explicit warnings. In the music world, Apple has been very careful to include Explicit warnings for music with lyrics that might raise the ire of parents, but I have only seen a handful of podcasts with Explicit warnings, such as the popular yet irreverent Dawn and Drew Show. All of the podcasts marked Explicit - we counted a total of six as of this writing - seem to be more so because of the occasional censored word, rather than truly pornographic content.

image

Is this a problem? Apple’s iTunes Music Store is designed to appeal to a young demographic, and it surprises me to think that Apple added all of these podcasts without screening their content in any way. In some cases, the names of the podcasts or descriptions of the episodes are dead giveaways: “check out two dirty stories about couples that cook up some very naughty holiday surprises…”

Now I’m no prude, nor a member of any religious or political group crusading against pornography - from my perspective, consenting adults have an indisputable right to choose what they listen to. Moreover, I have no issue with podcasts legitimately presented as educational - as are some of the ones in the screenshot above of the podcast directory section called Health > Sexuality.

However, as a father, I’m very disturbed that Apple, a company I’ve trusted to have good judgment, seems not to be concerned about the presence of pornography in their podcasts. At least, Apple should provide Explicit warnings on all these podcasts; at best, they should sort through the podcasts they have added (because Apple expressly chose to include these podcasts when launching iTunes 4.9) to weed out what is incompatible with a substantial fraction of their users. Users can subscribe to individual podcasts by adding entering their URLs in a dialog, so those people who want to listen to this type of audio content can do so with no restriction.

Freedom of choice is very important. But free access to porn through a portal designed to attract young users is a big error of judgment. Apple needs to be more responsible about the type of content it provides - not to censor it, but to appropriately label and restrict its access.

picKirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.






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Comments

1

I’m the first one to criticize a move toward censorship, but youhave a VERY valid point here.

I included an “Explicit” tag in my RSS feed, and if you sub to my podcast you’ll see an Explicit tag next to the title.

I assume this means that when iTunes picks me up for the directory, I will also be labeled as explicit.  Which is the way I want it, I even have a disclaimer at the beginning of my show.  I’m rated Podcast MA.  wink

Posted by stark23x on June 30, 2005 at 3:10 AM (PDT)

2

I am _not_ suggesting that Apple censor anything. However, I am suggesting that they provide clear indications, and, perhaps even a parental control function to block “explicit” podcasts. And it’s not “explicit” that bothers me; it’s porn. I can deal with a few four-letter words; I find it strange that most of the podcasts marked explicit on iTunes are comedy or talk podcasts, rather than real porn.

I didn’t raise the question in the article, but I wonder what liability Apple has regarding such content. They are not simply providing a link, such as Google does when you search. They have made a selection, and are actually providing the content.

And, again, lots of kids use iTunes…

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 5:08 AM (PDT)

3

First, I object to you including Feast of Fools in your anti-porn article.  That podcast in many ways is a homosexual (I can’t even use the word “g*a*y” on this site) oriented version of Dawn and Drew, not a porn show.  They may have brought up the subject of porn on occasion, but so do Dawn and Drew themselves.  It’s part of their conversations, like many poscasts and in real life.  I do agree that it may need the explicit warning.

Giving parents the option of censoring certain podcasts is fine with me, but in your original article you did say “they should sort through the podcasts they have added to weed out what is incompatible with a substantial fraction of their users”  WEED OUT—That sounds like censorship to me.  And this can get very subjective.  There are “fractions” of people out there that, for example, would rank anything homosexual related with the likes of porn.

One of the great things about podcasts in my opinion is being able to express yourself freely to a large audience without restriction. Every group deserves a voice.  Apple has definately opened a Pandora’s box here, but if there is going to be any blocking, it should be an option for the parents and no “weeding out” directly from Apple.

Posted by swirlboy on June 30, 2005 at 7:49 AM (PDT)

4

Let me make two points. First, I did not “include” Feast of Fools in the article; it appears in a screen shot that shows some of the podcasts I _did_ mention in the article. Second, censorship is not about limiting what you choose to offer to customers. Apple could choose to include every podcast in the world; they haven’t done so.

I’d also like to point out that Steve Jobs, in an interview with ABC News, said the following:

“Except that— on our directory— you know, we’re not— we’re not allowing any pornography. And we’re not allowing— you know, copyright infringement and things like that.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=892335&page=2)

So something is clearly amiss. Has Steve Jobs publically said, in your logic, that he is censoring podcasts?

Let’s face it - there’s a lot of porn out there, but it’s up to responsible media to not disseminate it. Personally, I have no problems with gay podcasts, as long as they are not pornographic.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 8:02 AM (PDT)

5

Hmm… sorry, I see what you mean about using that word g*a*y - I didn’t know that would be censored. grin

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 8:03 AM (PDT)

6

Apple is a private company; it has every right to censor or remove podcasts it feels could hurt its image.

Posted by jmaurand on June 30, 2005 at 8:04 AM (PDT)

7

It’s not even about censoring or removing - it’s about choosing what they offer. In this case, iTunes is a conduit. It’s not like Apple is merely providing links to web sites; they are providing the content.

As you say, they are free to choose - they don’t have to remove, they can simply decide to not add certain types of podcasts, which, according to Steve Jobs, is a decision the company has made.

And if there’s a Pandora’s box, it’s more on Apple’s end - if they’re going to police this, even just for copyright infringement issues, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 8:19 AM (PDT)

8

Shrug… Has anyone tried to download these if they are set-up on an “allowance” acct? Since you need to be 18+ to have a credit card of your own, perhaps downloading of explicit Podcasts is blocked by those w/o credit cards? Anyone try this?

Has anyone tried downloading podcasts in iTunes that isn’t setup with an acct of any kind?

If parents trust their kids with credit cards, why not sexually explicit material?

Posted by jwdsail on June 30, 2005 at 8:28 AM (PDT)

9

You don’t need an account to download podcasts.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 8:30 AM (PDT)

10

As a father, I think if my child is old enough to know what “Explicit” means, he’s also old enough to know that titles like “GayPornTalk,” anything with the word “Sex” in it, and so on, is off limits.  A child that’s too young to understand “Explicit” shouldn’t be using the internet unsupervised.

Lumping all of these shows under the “Porno” headline, while sure to generate traffic, seems disingenuous.  I hope that you, as a self-appointed guardian of public decency, know the difference between discussing pornography, fetishes, etc, and material whose sole intent is to arouse the libido.

Posted by Sigh... on June 30, 2005 at 8:54 AM (PDT)

11

I think it’s refreshing that Apple’s not (at least yet) censoring what they offer.

I do think they need to offer the explicit tag; that’s fair enough.

But it’s nice that they’re not being too Disney about this thing.

Posted by mattwardfh in Texas on June 30, 2005 at 9:25 AM (PDT)

12

There is a podcast that I have been listening too called insomnia radio, and yesterday it appeared with an explicit tag on iTunes. Its funny, cause I haven’t heard any bad language and definitaly nothing that is controversial, then you hear about these other podcasts like the ones mentioned in this article that don’t pretend to be inappropriate.

Yea they should figure out a way to do a little censoring, especially since kids could be listening to this stuff.

Posted by zboy on June 30, 2005 at 9:58 AM (PDT)

13

Labeling explicit content seems like a no-brainer, and the point is well-taken.

Equating explicit content with pornography seems sloppy and uninformed at best, disingenuous at worst, and inflammatory in either case.

Posted by rogermexico on June 30, 2005 at 10:02 AM (PDT)

14

>Equating explicit content with pornography seems sloppy and uninformed at best, disingenuous at worst, and inflammatory in either case.

If you read the article, you’ll see that I did not equate explicit content with pornography…. Quite the contrary.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 10:24 AM (PDT)

15

Unfortunately, the word g*ay has been used in a derogatory manner numerous times and thus has been added to the word censor list.

Posted by Dennis Lloyd in Irvine, CA on June 30, 2005 at 10:46 AM (PDT)

16

I think that part of the problem is podcasters are not that terribly technical, in order to designate your podcast as “explicit” you need to add a tag to your rss feed, which most podcasters do not know how to do.  To my knowledge all of the major rss providers (blogger, feedburner etc) have yet to enble the new “itunes” tags in thier rss feed. My assumption is that most content that is explicit will be marked as such in due order. 

I am actually quite disappointed with the iTMS, mostly because it seems to think “podcasting” is repackage morning drive time radio.  One of my favorite podcasts (Feast of Fools),  are in your screenshot above,  the rest are mostly hidden under “Heath > Sexuality” heading!!  My problem is that they buried all the “good” stuff and put crap on the front page.  I don’t want apple making decision on what I should have easy access to, because we obviously have different tastes.

Regarding good parenting, if you feel that your child should not be listening to that content I would recommend a good child filter.  iTMS just is a directory, all the content comes from the origin site which could be easily blocked.

Posted by CKerCA on June 30, 2005 at 1:41 PM (PDT)

17

As the producer of Rope Weekly, one of the podcasts you mentioned, I would like to respond.

Apple did not consult with me at all before including my podcast in their directory. I am not sure who it is that actually submitted the listing to them, but if they had bothered to look at the other places where the podcast has been registered, such as Podcast Pickle, they would have seen “Adult” and “X” ratings on it. Apple did provide a spec for me to alter my rss feed, which includes the “explicit” tag—and as soon as I got it, I changed my RSS feed (http://www.graydancer.com/ropeweekly/rss.xml) to reflect it.

I also used Apple’s comment section on each podcast to let them know that I was the producer of that podcast and that it needed to be labeled “explicit” as soon as possible.

Neither the RSS feed nor Apple’s response seems to be happening soon. I realize they are under a lot of pressure with thousands of podcasts, but I agree with you—if they were going to include my podcast, they should have “explicit” on it, because it is.

I am also a father, and a proponent of free speech, and I have no problem with labels like “explicit” to enable parents to police what their children listen to. That is our job. I can only hope that the Apple techs catch up soon.

Posted by Graydancer on June 30, 2005 at 9:36 PM (PDT)

18

Kirk said “...it’s about choosing what they offer. In this case, iTunes is a conduit. It’s not like Apple is merely providing links to web sites; they are providing the content.”

If you’re going to editorialize, please understand the subject better! So far what I’m understanding about iTunes and Podcasting is:

1. Apple _doesn’t_ provide the content, They provide the directory, which links to RSS feeds hosted by the Podcasters themselves (or a service they’re signed up with). So they _are_ just links!
2. Apple’s specifications for Podcasters editing their feeds for iTunes didn’t come out until _after_ the public release of iTunes, and now some Podcasters are having problems with them. It is at least partially expected by Apple that Podcasters create feeds with iTunes compatable ID3 tags (which is where the “explicit” tags should be residing).
3. Some of the corrected feeds (ones with properly edited iTunes ID3 tags) are slow to update, probably because the service is being overloaded by curious listeners.

Is Apple responsible? Well, only so much as one can be with a directory of 3000 Podcasts that have not yet been fully screened. Realistically, they haven’t been screened, since Apple has kept the development aspect of iTunes extremely secret, even from the Podcasters themselves. Unfortunately, when Apple claims to be screening and filtering their directory for explicit content, then that makes it Apple’s job to make sure it does it. No matter how unrealistic!

Eric

Posted by EricW in WI on June 30, 2005 at 10:31 PM (PDT)

19

> 1. Apple _doesn’t_ provide the content, They provide the directory, which links to RSS feeds hosted by the Podcasters themselves (or a service they’re signed up with). So they _are_ just links!

Technically, you are correct. But in reality, this is not the case. iTunes provides the content - it comes from the iTunes directory, and ends up in iTunes. While Apple is not hosting the content, the result is the same as if they were.

Were they simply providing links to web sites, on which you subscribed or copied URLs to subscribe, I’d agree with you. But Apple is providing the entire process, from discovery to reception.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 30, 2005 at 11:59 PM (PDT)

20

The commenter Sigh… said:

“As a father, I think if my child is old enough to know what “Explicit? means, he’s also old enough to know that titles like “GayPornTalk,? anything with the word “Sex? in it, and so on, is off limits.  A child that’s too young to understand “Explicit? shouldn’t be using the internet unsupervised. “

So if he’s old enough to know what it is, he’s less likely to actually pay attention to it? Riiiight. That’s some scary logic there, my friend.

But hey, I’m sure your child knows to look away from Playboy, and skip over the late night cable channels if given the opportunity to view either, as well.

As someone who works for a kids toy company, I’m pretty shocked as well that Apple didn’t included at least the impression of a kid “protection”.

As far as “censorship” goes… all I have to say to those who call Apple’s selection policy censorship… blah blah blah. They can choose to “censor” (or in reality, “select) whoever they want or don’t want.

Posted by sink in USA on July 1, 2005 at 5:36 AM (PDT)

21

>If you read the article, you’ll see that I did not equate explicit content with pornography…. Quite the contrary.

Thanks for the condescending deflection!

*reads article entitled “Apple’s Porno Podcasts”*

“there’s a pretty big selection of pornographic content… some of these podcasts can get seriously raunchy - in language, subject matter, or both. Names such as Open Source Sex, Rope Weekly (about bondage), GayPorn Talk, or Seduction & Strip Clubs may catch your attention”

These all sound like adult-oriented informational programming. The only potentially pornographic content you mention is whatever’s described as “check out two dirty stories about couples that cook up some very naughty holiday surprises…”

I haven’t listened to that one, so I don’t know if the naughtiness described is of the PG-13 or XXX variety.

Posted by rogermexico on July 1, 2005 at 12:46 PM (PDT)

22

I’m not going to bother to weigh in on the subject of whether Apple should provide certain podcasts or not. What I would like to point out, however, is the grevious misuse of the word censorship in some of the posts above.

Apple is a private company and as such is free to provide or not provide content or feeds to content as they see fit (morality and responsiblity are wholely different issues). If they should decide not to do so, their not choosing to provide information/connection to provocative, explicit or pornographic content is no more censorship than their providing of said content is a statement in support of free speech.

If Apple chooses not to offer certain content, it hardly means that content disappears or can’t exist. If they do offer particular content, it doesn’t mean that they are doing so for any political or social reason or commentary (most likely they are not; hello financial motives!)

Censorship is something a government imposes upon a people, media, etc that restricts their lawful ability to speak and communicate freely. It has nothing to do with any private or corporate entity (no matter how powerful or influential) excercising control of its sphere of influence.

Posted by punxking in San Diego on July 2, 2005 at 11:36 PM (PDT)

23

after reading this i searched for expicit podcasts in itunes, and found that the majority WHERE marked explict, several of which were not marked in the screenshot provided

Posted by mini_me2 on July 4, 2005 at 10:45 AM (PDT)

24

*WERE marked, sorry about the spelling

Posted by mini_me2 on July 4, 2005 at 10:45 AM (PDT)

25

I guess there are different ways of interpreting “censorship”, but I would say it extends further than what punxking is arguing for. From wikipedia, we have
  “Others point out the suppression of access to the means of dissemination of ideas by governmental bodies such as the FCC in the United States of America, the CRTC in Canada, or a newspaper that refuses to run commentary the publisher disagrees with, or a lecture hall that refuses to rent itself out to a particular speaker, or an individual refusing to finance that lecture.”

According to this quote, Apple would censor material.

Personally, I would like Apple’s listing to reflect a wide variety of podcasts (properly marked, of course)—society is varied and when you start to apply filters it is easy to go wrong. Maybe they can include an “safe surf” option a la Google’s image search? However, the best is a conversation with your kids. They will stumble on any type of content as soon as they use a browser.

Posted by Seren on July 5, 2005 at 6:38 AM (PDT)

26

It’s pretty funny: a podcast called Sex Talk is at 339 on the iTunes top 100. Sex Talk is a show about gender politics, with a pro-feminist stance. All those people downloading it thinking it’s podcast porn are in for a shock smile

Posted by Vault Master on July 6, 2005 at 8:46 PM (PDT)

27

oops. I meant to say at #39 smile

Posted by Vault Master on July 6, 2005 at 9:35 PM (PDT)

28

I think Apple should build in a feature to “Add Custom Podcast” in iTunes where a user could just type in the URL of an XML file and it would act the same as a Podcast listed in the iTunes directory. From my understanding of how iTunes Podcast support works, there shouldn’t be any technical issues with this.

Then Apple can be more liberal with what they exclude from the listing. If people want porn, they can find it in the more underground parts of the web. In my opinion, porn should not get any more mainstream. If people really want it, they can find it. It becomes an issue when people (kids, adults that choose not view/listen to porn, etc.) stumble across it. Especially for people with addictions, etc. Now that porn has become so much more mainstream, it’s hard to get away from it if you want to.

Posted by saycheese200 on July 7, 2005 at 9:19 AM (PDT)

29

saycheese200, that feature exists. “Advanced >> Subscribe to Podcast…”

Posted by fuzzygerdes on July 7, 2005 at 1:03 PM (PDT)

30

Don’t blame the casts of the owners of the feed - Apple added the feeds in their directory withouth consulting 99% of the podcast community, and added iTunes specific tags for it (again without consulting or warning the community), so there is not way you could have known, unless you were financially in bed with them like PodShow - hence why Dawn and Drew was tagged and others weren’t)

It’s Apple’s fault - and they’re very slow in updating their feeds or adding any…

Posted by timbearcub on July 8, 2005 at 10:15 AM (PDT)

31

I agree with punxking’s interpretation of censorship. I take Wikipedia information with a grain of salt, since anyone can go there and make a change. Only governments cannot censor; remember, the First Amendment starts: “Congress shall make no law…”. It says nothing about private entities, companies, people, or technically even newspapers.

The original topic had nothing to do with censorship, in any case. It was a simple call to Apple to make sure that objectionable content was marked as such, so that parents can protect their children from that which they should not hear.

There is nothing in current law that I know of (IANAL) that would prevent someone from refusing to finance any conference with which he disagrees, or renting meeting space to a group with which he disagrees (and therefore the source for the noted Wikipedia entry is likely wrong). The VFW isn’t about to rent to the local tree-hugging peaceniks; the local Knights of Columbus or Shriner’s Club certainly won’t allow your neighborhood Planned Parenthood office to hold an anti-birth^H^H^H^H pro-abort^H^H^H^H pro-“choice” rally in their meeting halls.

Private entities censor each other all the time, and it’s perfectly legal and ethical. It’s only local, state, and federal governments who are constitutionally bound against prohibiting free speech. Apple’s perfectly within its right to list what it wants and not what it doesn’t. But Apple still needs to tag what may be objectionable by the majority of its user base. If they do, that may actually (in theory) give Apple some distance from cries of censorship, because they’ll be allowing end users to do the censoring privately, rather than on a more public forum.

Posted by Red Five on August 15, 2005 at 10:17 AM (PDT)

32

Oh, BTW, if any of you listen to This Week in Tech (the old Screen Savers guys), it turns out that Apple DOES host the content. Well, according to Leo in the 7/31 podcast, Apple actually caches the podcasts from each feed it lists, so that when you download from the ITMS podcast store, you’re actually getting your podcast from Apple’s servers.

Leo specifically said that it throws off his estimates of their listener count, and that it indicates a higher-than-realized estimate.

Posted by Red Five on August 15, 2005 at 10:21 AM (PDT)

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