Why did Apple remove a Wikileaks app from its store?


Over the weekend, I noticed that a Wikileaks app became available in the Apple store for $1.99 a pop. Wonder how long that's gonna last, I thought. Not long! Three days. Miguel Helft in the NYT:


Apple on Tuesday confirmed that it had removed from its online store an iPhone and iPad app that let users view the content on the WikiLeaks site and follow the WikiLeaks Twitter account.

Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had removed the app “because it violated our developer guidelines.” Ms. Muller added: “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way.”

The $1.99 WikiLeaks App was taken down on Monday after being available for just three days.

As Wired's Kevin Poulsen points out, the app kind of sucked—basically, it was the Wikileaks website, no real value-add. All the more reason to be concerned by Apple's move.

Snip from Poulsen's Wired News piece:

You don't have to agree with WikiLeaks' methods or publishing standards to recognize that what it does is a form of journalism -- most clearly with its current leak. WikiLeaks has so-far published 1,824 of its 251,287 leaked diplomatic cables. Unlike the organizations' earlier mass leaks, each published cable has been hand-reviewed, and occasionally hand-redacted of some names. WikiLeaks says the review has been conducted by journalists at the newspapers that were provided embargoed access to the leak -- a list that includes the Guardian, Der Spiegel and other internationally reputable news organizations.

WikiLeaks and its people haven't been charged with a crime for publishing U.S. leaks, and they'd have a strong First Amendment defense if they were. And despite concerns voiced from top officials, there has yet to be a documented instance of anyone coming to harm as a result of WikiLeaks' releases. With news and media organizations (including Wired magazine) betting heavily on iPad apps as a way to get users to pay to read magazines and newspapers, it's chilling to see Apple double down on its right to censor controversial, but lawfully published, content of indisputable news value.


  1. You can say the app isn’t a value-add, but “basically the website” is a pretty lame critique. I think the iPhone Wikipedia app is better than the website itself and may be the most useful information appliance ever, at least for me.

  2. Anyone knows the link to where we can report NYTimes and all other media outlets for similar conduct in the App Store?

  3. I suggest you email Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller ask why they did it.

    If they’re going to respond to any email, this would seem like a good one.

  4. As numerous bloggers/journalists, such as Glenn Greenwald and Digby, have reported, Wikileaks has broken no laws and has not been charged with anything. Also, there is not one demonstrable shred of truth to the right-wing meme that Wikileaks actions have put anyone in danger. Not one. So Apple is full of it.

  5. For the same reason they pulled the porn apps.

    If they merely make a device that you can use to access questionable content, that’s on you, not them.

    If they make money (by selling an app for and only for the questionable content) and successful litigation ensues, Apple has the deepest pockets to pay the piper.

    This is sound policy on Apple’s part. Nobody gets sued over fart-noise makers.

  6. If large multinational corporations are going to censor at the request of the Chinese government, it’s extremely unlikely that they are going to stand up to the US government, or even risk ending up in its crosshairs. That is the nature of the modern multinational. They exist to make profits and push up share prices: not to advance principles. Given the highly mixed public sentiment and the US government’s fury over Wikileaks, there is little for Apple to gain by being seen to be involved, especially in a way that is inconsequential enough that it won’t garner any support from Wikilieaks advocates but still visible enough to draw criticism (and more) from detractors.

    Pulling the app is bad for free speech, a sad comment on the state of politics and democracy, but ultimately a sensible business decision.

  7. It hasn’t been shown that Wikileaks breaks any law, nor that anyone has been put in harm’s way. Maybe they got a call from Lieberman’s dept. (or as I like to call them, the ghost of Joseph McCarthy) or they’re jumping on the anti-freedom-of-the-press bandwagon.

  8. How is this any different than what U.S. companies have been willing to do for China, as just one example, for years? Why the surprise that these same corps will do the same in here?

    We’ve always presumed that China would westernize due to globalization; it seems that eastern approaches to dissent and civil rights are instead becoming much more common, even accepted, in the western world.

    1. At this time there are at least 5 Wikileaks apps in the Android Market. I will be surprised if they don’t stay right where they are. Google doesn’t behave like Steve.

      And there’s little point in removing things from the Market, as any user can turn on non-Market installations for their phone and install the file directly. No rooting required.

      Here’s another thought: If Apple objects to users being able to observe Wikileaks data over the internet, then they had better remove Safari from iOS devices immediately.

  9. Apple has recently taken to pulling apps that are no-functionality-added thinly wrapped versions of a website, emphasizing the use of the web browser and a bookmark instead of cluttering the device and app store with apps-for-the-sake-of-apps.

    1. While I don’t own an Apple device and can’t try the Twitter App, given the bare-bones nature of Twitter itself, I’d like to know how much richer an experience the Twitter App could possibly present than the web version of Twitter.

      While I certainly appreciate that Apple finds it *advantageous* to changes the rules of the game while in mid-game, it just doesn’t seem quite fair.

    2. I was wondering about that too. And the copyright issue, it seems like the developer does not have the rights to the name and logo.

      This is from the review guidelines:
      12.3 Apps that are simply web clippings, content aggregators, or a collection of links, may be rejected.

      Better use a browser for the web anyway IMO.

    3. instead of cluttering the device and app store with apps-for-the-sake-of-apps

      “Laws” and “harm’s way” doesn’t really seem to speak to that. Why would they say, “Oh, and also it’s a crappy app” when they could have said just that, one of the most generic reasons allowed by man, instead of cockamamie legalities? I think you’re probably being a bit too charitable.

      Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had removed the app “because it violated our developer guidelines.” Ms. Muller added: “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way.”

      You can argue that she was referring to unstated dev guidelines in addition to the second clause, and I think that’s probably close enough for gov’t work, but it’s all pretty much handwaving. I’d like to see a decomposition of the Apple Developer guidelines into a list of things that apps cannot do.

    4. Yep. Particularly those that charge money for something that is free on the ‘copied’ website.

      Also Apple has a rule that all apps for making donations much be free. Igor was claiming to donate $1.00 of the profits from each buy to wikileaks. AND apparently Igor is not actually directly connected to Wikileaks (so he could be lying about the whole donation thing and just keeping the money)

      Add to this that Apple is very careful to avoid taking a stand on either side for 99.9% of political issues.

      Really the whole question is why it was approved at all. They have as much right as a store to reject it as to pull it and it makes no sense why it was approved. Unless of course the whole price and donation issue came afterward they ok’d it. That would change the game.

  10. Well, this is Apple. They require that I certify that I’m over 18 before I can download the Bing app, presumably because I could find pr0n with it.

    1. or maybe its because online apps could be used by kids to circumvent the parental access features. relax.

  11. Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had removed the app “because it violated our developer guidelines.” Ms. Muller added: “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way.”

    Too bad publishing classified government documents isn’t illegal in the USA (yet). Just look at the Pentagon Papers.

  12. Expecting Apple to provide a service based on the public interest is like trying to use a Barbie doll for anatomical instruction.

    What disturbs me though, is that these lily-livered turkeys and their ilk seek to become gatekeepers by default of whole swathes of our communications.

    This. Will. Not. Do.

    IMO the only response that makes any sense is to seek to educate our less savvy fellow citizens on the folly of marrying themselves to these crippled services, and the benefits of free and open platforms.

    Apple’s iEmpire needs to gain a wide reputation as kids’ stuff and nothing worth a damn more.

  13. I love a lot of things that Apple do. Never had much problems with what they do on the App Store so far. A lot of people jump the gun and blame the removals (or whatever else might be on topic) on things that’s not even close to the truth. This however, is really disturbing.

    But hey, now i have a good reason to never buy the iPad. Ever. Probably stay wary about supporting the Mac App Store.

    1. That’s good honestly. But you do have to realize this is a concrete, perfect example of how Apple operates. Every day.

  14. My take on it in less than 140 characters was: Apple on removing the app with WikiLeaks cables: “An app must comply with all local laws.” What laws does it violate? “No comment.” #sketchy

    But there’s no sense in raging on about “what disturbs me though, is that these lily-livered turkeys and their ilk seek to become gatekeepers by default of whole swathes of our communications.”

    They don’t. They are the gatekeepers of what is in their store.

    You can still use Safari to access Wikileaks, and *any* other website on the internet. And I’m pretty sure Apple has no way to filter the sites it can access.

    So, to recap:
    Is this a dick move? Yes.
    Is it wrong? Maybe.
    Is it an attempt to restrict anyone’s freedom? No.

  15. http://images.worldofapple.com/appstoreguidelines_9910.pdf [worldofapple.com]

    See section 21. Donations can only be collected with free apps, and only in certain ways. Most likely since Apple cannot confirm that $1 is being donated like the app submitter is saying, it got pulled. If the person resubmits it with in app donations it will probably pass again. Otherwise we will have an explosion of “pay me $1.99 and I’ll donate $1″ apps all over the place and no money getting donated. Where as in app donations can be confirmed.

  16. WikiLeaks and its people haven’t been convicted or even
    charged with a crime for publishing U.S. leaks

    fixed that for Poulsen/Wired…

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