Nudged by Apple, Twitter’s Porn Saga Ends in a Raw Deal for Vine

Published on February 6, 2013
by Mike Isaac and John Paczkowski

vine_pixelatedWe spent last week watching Vine, Twitter’s new video-sharing app, get raked over the coals in the public eye for its so-called “porn problem”: If you searched for certain suggestive hashtags on the service — just think of a few four-letter words — you’d be privy to some six-second clips of sexytime.

Apple doesn’t like a scandal, especially concerning anything genitalia-related. And it seemed the immediate solution was to cut Vine from the prominently featured list of “Editor’s Picks” in the App Store.

But that wasn’t enough. On Tuesday evening, Vine pushed an update to its app for download. Now, when users download the Vine app or update for the first time, they’re faced with a “17+” age-restricted material rating.

That’s a big bummer for Twitter, but it seems it wasn’t avoidable. We’ve been told by people familiar with the matter that Apple reminded Twitter of Clause 3.8 from the App Store guidelines, which says:

Developers are responsible for assigning appropriate ratings to their apps. Inappropriate ratings may be changed by Apple.

In other words, Apple gave Twitter a nudge, implying Twitter might want to change its maturity rating in order to keep within the confines of the App Store guidelines. Otherwise, Vine could have faced ejection. Twitter did it, albeit begrudgingly.

Apple declined to comment on my report, and Twitter isn’t responding to requests for comment.

To some degree, we should have expected this. Apple cut Twitter a lot of slack when the porn scandal first broke — at least, by Apple’s standards. (This, after all, is the company that deep-sixed a comic-book-app version of Joyce’s “Ulysses” for depicting cartoon boobs.) Why? Probably because Apple and Twitter are elbow-rubbing pals, with deep ties into one another’s companies and software.

vine_screenBut as we argued last week, Vine doesn’t have a porn problem per se — it has a porn discovery problem. That gnarly porno found on Vine was all too easily surfaced in the app, due in part to the nature of the service itself. Search a hashtag keyword for sex, penis or what have you, and you’ll be taken straight to the hardcore stuff. That’s not as easy to find in, say, YouTube, which has a more mature engine for filtering out objectionable content. Or even Tumblr (though Tumblr is also rated 17+ in the App Store).

The prudish Apple can deal with the fact that yes, we are human, and yes, we watch porn (lots of it). And to some degree, it will always exist across the Internet. It’s a fact of life. But what Apple can’t deal with is said porn front and center, easily discoverable for any and all to see. It’s why SnapChat has a 12+ rating, and why Vine doesn’t.

In other words, think of yourself as a teenager to Apple’s repressed mother — you hide your porn under your mattress. You don’t leave it out on the coffee table.

This is no doubt a bad thing for Vine and Twitter. Video and photo sharing apps are some of the fastest rising among the teenage group. That’s the category that SnapChat is currently dominating, where Tumblr is killing it, and the age group that every social media company needs to dominate. Slapping a mature rating on Vine automatically eliminates any youngsters who have parental settings turned on from downloading it, potentially a large swath of the teen population.

Twitter might be advised to hurry up and release that Vine Android app post haste — Google isn’t as uptight with its app market.

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