If you have been around the App Store lately, you’re likely to have heard that Apple enforces a strict, albeit inconsistent and subjective, no-offensive-material policy that includes what Apple deems to be pornographic or offensive. We’re not here to debate whether Apple has that right, but rather to talk about Apple’s main App Store Director, Phillip Shoemaker.

Now, imagine you’re a businessperson, trying to eke out a living providing a product or service to your customers. Now imagine if your product or service is regulated in some way, forcing you to do things the way the regulatory body insists you do them. Then imagine that your competitor is in charge of this regulatory body, and has a say over whether you may or may not sell a particular product. Are you upset, yet?

This is apparently what is happening over at the App Store, with Mr. Shoemaker. According to a Wired Gadget Lab post by Brian X. Chen yesterday, Mr. Shoemaker is the lead decision maker on the approval or rejection of apps in the app store. Mr. Shoemaker is also an app developer, having three apps published to the App Store after Mr. Shoemaker was hired at Apple. Huh? Does this seem like a conflict of interest to you?

App Store quality indeed:
'Even has a Fart Threshold slider to simulate the accidentals!'

It only gets better, however. One of the three apps is iWiz, where you can “simulate the experience of urinating for a long time.” While apps that deal with bodily excretions not prohibited by Apple (Fart apps continue to abound), it hardly seems consistent with Mr. Shoemaker’s role as the gatekeeper on what is and what isn’t appropriate in the App Store.

Interestingly, though perhaps less relevant to any ethical or conflict of interest concerns as an Apple employee, Mr. Shoemaker’s recently purged Twitter account “showed him following lots of escorts and porn stars on the microblogging service, a public indulgence in precisely the sort of content his boss Apple CEO Steve Jobs has deemed too harmful and corrosive even to touch the app store,” according to website ValleyWag.

Seems as if Apple has a serious PR debacle on its hands, at a time when they’ve barely and not altogether successfully cleaned up the previous big-news-that-even-has-its-own-name, AntennaGate. Oh, and the mid-level manager arrested for money laundering and fraud? Who does your hiring, Apple?

Now, I’m no moralizing preacher from the bible belt who needs to equate business with personal life, but it strikes me as the kind of scandal that Apple should be avoiding right now. It may not be as bad as if Larry Flynt was hired on as the director of the National Gallery, or Howard Stern as the director of NPR, but tell that to the developers who have had their apps disapproved, banned, or stuck in approval limbo for weeks and even months on end as they try to make a living in, ironically, the same way Mr. Shoemaker does: by selling apps on the App Store.

Having this guy as the final arbiter of what does and does not make it to the App Store is unacceptable, and calls for immediate action. Apple, where are you in all this? What are you going to do to fix the problem? My hope is that you find a more objective way to police the App Store, setting clear, written editorial guidelines on what can and cannot be published on the App Store, and make sure all the developers and publishers are held to the same standard. Also? Make sure that those very same developers and publishers aren’t the ones deciding the fate of their competition’s apps.

Posted in: App Store Insiders, Blog

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