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.

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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