Apple rejects, censors iPhone dictionary app [updated] | iLounge News


Apple rejects, censors iPhone dictionary app [updated]

Apple rejected the dictionary app Ninjawords three times before accepting it into the App Store, in the process forcing the developers to remove every word it deemed “objectionable,” including commonly-used words that have non-objectionable uses. Unlike many competing low-cost dictionary apps using WordNet, Ninjawords uses Wiktionary as its source. John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes that Mac OS X’s built-in Dictionary app lists all of the words deemed objectionable by App Store reviewers. After having been rejected in May for a bug that crashed the software on the latest beta of iPhone OS 3.0, the app was rejected again for listing curse words.

Phil Crosby, a developer for Ninjawords maker Matchstick Software, told Gruber in an email interview that the rejection came despite the fact that Ninjawords filtered out all curse words in its suggestion listings, something competing apps, including’s application, don’t do. It was rejected a third time following Matchstick’s efforts to remove the curse words, with an Apple representative calling Matchstick to inform them that “no matter what we did to our dictionary, it will have to be 17+ to make it to the App Store.” In the end, Matchstick ended up having to remove common words such as snatch, c*ck, and screw, and managed to have the app approved in mid-July. Ninjawords is available now from the App Store and sells for $2.

Update: Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller has responded to Gruber’s report via an email, stating that Ninjawords was rejected not because of common swear words, but because of “other more vulgar terms,” “urban slang” that might be more offensive than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, and suggested that had the developer waited for the release of Parental Controls in iPhone OS 3.0, the app would not have needed censoring.

“You are correct that the Ninjawords application should not have needed to be censored while also receiving a 17+ rating, but that was a result of the developers’ actions, not Apple’s. I believe that the Apple app review team’s original recommendation to the developer to submit the Ninjawords application, without censoring it, to the App Store once parental controls was implemented would have been the best course of action for all; is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary,” Schiller said in his email.

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This is getting a bit ridiculous. I understand Apple wants to minimize any negative repercussions brought on by content providers, but any 8 year old with $20 can walk in to Barnes & Noble and buy a dictionary that includes these and many worse words. We can’t whitewash everything just in case someone MIGHT take something the wrong way or take offense. It is time to suck it up and stop crying foul every time something blurs the lines of our delicate sensibilities. Simply put out a blanket statement that some App Store items might contain some objectionable material, stamp a rating on those that clearly need it and move on already!

Posted by Mitch on August 5, 2009 at 10:25 AM (CDT)


This is beyond the pale.  While banning applications that have received numerous complaints about copyright and/or trademark infringements is at least understandable, banning an app because it contains “bad words” is absurd.

That developer needs to lawyer up and go after Apple with a freedom of speech lawsuit.  I’m sorry.  This is unacceptable.  At least in the US.  perhaps that sort of app could be banned from another country’s version of the app store, but not here.

What the hell is going on at Apple?!?!

Posted by Stephen on August 5, 2009 at 10:26 AM (CDT)


The App Store is quickly becoming a joke.  I have and looked up all of these words.  Including the ultimate swear the F-bomb, has multiple definitions in that app.

Posted by sting7k on August 5, 2009 at 10:30 AM (CDT)


As a long time PC-based user, IT admin, and PC instructor, I was just beginning to warm up to Apple because of their great iPod and iPhone products. However, all the recent and past reports of the inexplicable Apple apps approval process has really turned me off to the company. Apple’s control of the iPhone platform seems overly rigid to me. I wonder if it’s practice of disapproving apps because they “duplicate default functions” is legal cause for the FCC to investigate them as the FCC did with Microsoft and its browser control.

Posted by djman10 on August 5, 2009 at 10:45 AM (CDT)


My kid reads this website and I am appalled that you would print the word screw in here.  Unacceptable ilounge!

See how ridiculous that sounds apple?

Posted by Ryan on August 5, 2009 at 10:47 AM (CDT)


ooops…. I should have said the “FTC” needs to investigate Apple.

Posted by djman10 on August 5, 2009 at 10:49 AM (CDT)


Its amazing how apple approved apps like “theXchange” which allowed pictures of naked 15 year old girls looking for sex but they wont allow an app with the word “screw”.

Posted by John on August 5, 2009 at 12:06 PM (CDT)


OK, I’ve tried hard to see Apple’s perspective on a lot of these things. I’ve tried to defend them often. I’ve usually seen their side, but if all this is true, it would appear something is wrong in the App approval process. Someone clearly needs to be removed from his position of power.

Posted by urbanslaughter on August 5, 2009 at 3:41 PM (CDT)


Stephen @#2 This may seem like a freedom of speech issue, but that only applies to governmental limitations of speech, not to a corporation. So Apple is free to limit speech any way it wants - even if it may be offensive to consumers.

Posted by urbanslaughter on August 5, 2009 at 4:05 PM (CDT)


I hope that in the App Store description for this app, there is a warning that this dictionary is crippled.  I would not be happy to pay for a dictionary only to find that it is missing commonly used words such as screw.  Why is Apple hurting us app buyers and giving app developers a black eye by indirectly forcing apps to not work as advertised?

Posted by Zac on August 5, 2009 at 4:12 PM (CDT)


At one point, I thought this was going to be the year I picked up an iPod touch. Over the past months, though, Apple has gone and given me multiple reasons why I will never consider their iPhone OS products.

Let the parents out there decide if a dictionary is too risque or not (this one says “not”). It should not be the OS vendor’s role to make approval decisions on such a trivial matter. As a private entity, they can make whatever rules they want, but as a functioning sentient, I can and will choose to avoid their bright new world.

Posted by Code Monkey on August 5, 2009 at 5:04 PM (CDT)


I’m afraid I have to concur with CodeMonkey.

Recent behaviour have demonstrated a corporation that effectively treats its consumer base with contempt.

My recent purchase (of an iPod Classic for myself and Nano for my partner) of clickwheel iPods will be the last transaction I’ll complete with the Apple Corporation.

Posted by FormerAppleProductConsumer on August 6, 2009 at 1:25 PM (CDT)


Apple is not the family values police. Their store is the vehicle for selling apps, that’s all. They have no business injecting value judgments into products written by others for the public. That Phil Schiller is on board with qualified version of the censorship only shows how ingrained the belief is that they somehow need to monitor us and our civil propriety. Get out of the morals business and return to giving us well-designed hardware and software!

Posted by Dennis on August 6, 2009 at 2:35 PM (CDT)


After reading Phil Schiller’s input, I can see where this was warranted at the time. I assumed we were talking about a denial in the 3.0 era. I can understand the logic a little better now. Without parental controls, or some way of alerting users to objectionable material, this app could have been too much to allow many kids with iPhones/iPod Touches to access. I am not a fan of censorship, but I also have a 13 year old daughter. I like to know what she is accessing on the gadgets I have provided her.

Posted by Mitch on August 7, 2009 at 10:33 AM (CDT)


Phil Schiller needs to read some George Orwell AND realize that it is satire.

Posted by Lemmy Caution on August 7, 2009 at 12:56 PM (CDT)


Paging Mr Phil Schiller…if I had to guess I’d say about 25% of the music on iTunes “contains other more vulgar terms” and/or “urban slang”, does this mean you, as Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, support yanking those songs off of iTunes?

Hey Apple, hypocrisy much?

Posted by Ned A on August 7, 2009 at 4:04 PM (CDT)


I, too, am agape at the intellectual disconnect between a company that was rescued from niche obscurity by embracing the music market in a way that was, for Apple at least, very open and very hands off versus this new nannycentric strangle hold with the iPhone OS based devices.

Had Apple approached general audio content in the same manner they now approach all other content they’d probably have already filed for bankruptcy protection in the midst of the current recession.

When it comes to what gets approved, they should be limited to focus on QA standards to ensure security and stability, and legal disclosures to protect Apple from IP lawsuits, full stop.

Posted by Code Monkey on August 8, 2009 at 8:01 AM (CDT)

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