Bad Hombre is an award-winning satirical game created by 16-year-old Jackie George. Two days after it won the Shortly Award and was recognized in her school newsletter, Bad Hombre was removed from both Apple's App Store and Google Play (George notes that her town of Naples, FL is very conservative with a lot of Trump supporters and is suspicious that one of her neighbors reported the app).
George appealed the removal and Google quickly reinstated the app, but Apple refused to do so. Instead, she and her father -- and eventually Phillip Shoemaker, former head of the App Store for Apple -- got embroiled in a long, kafkaesque process with Apple's support reps who seem to have mistaken an app that makes fun of Donald Trump's use of racist epithets for an endorsement of racism. Despite the fact that the satire is obvious to anyone who pays even cursory attention, none of them have been able to get any kind of reconsideration from Apple.
It seems Apple has a blanket ban on depicting things like swastikas and Klan hoods, even to criticize or mock them. Eventually, George's dad was able to get a full accounting from Apple's rep on what would have to change to make the app acceptable, and it's genuinely farcical.
Jackie (and Phillip) — I left another message this morning around 11am EST. Around noon EST, a member of the App Review Team called me back. His name was Adam; he was the same guy that left a message on my cell phone Monday night. He was very friendly, and he apologized for not calling back sooner.
He wanted to provide clarity around the things that would have to be changed in Bad Hombre in order for Apple to put it back on the App Store. He then walked through the points one-by-one. He referenced the conversation I had had about a month ago with his colleague Vadim. 1) He reiterated that the characters that look like members of the KKK would have to be eliminated. He said this image went against the guidelines, and that it would have to be removed completely from the game and also from screenshots and app previews. He said the app preview also shows a swastika, and so that had to be removed as well. He said something like - “it’s in the level where they are dropping hearts and the character is collecting the hearts.” So I said - “no, that’s not right. The character is throwing kisses, or hearts/love, towards the ‘bad guys’ and turning them into angels, or good guys. That’s the point of the level. The idea is to fight hate with love.” He just brushed it off and said, “this isn’t my personal decision, but she will have to change it.” I asked about the soldiers, if they were okay. He said they were okay so long as you couldn’t tell specifically that they were any nationality, like Russians or Germans. I didn’t push it, but to me they obviously seem to be exactly that.
2) He then asked about the icon. He wanted to know if the outline of the person on the icon was meant to be anyone in particular. I said, “yes, of course, it’s supposed to be Donald Trump. He’s the Bad Hombre, that should be obvious.” He remarked that some people “on the team” thought that maybe it was Hitler. I assured him that this was not the case. He said then in that case the icon wouldn’t have to be changed. I guess they are okay with a Trump image.
3) He reiterated that any of the screens showing monuments burning or damaged government buildings would have to be removed. He said these images could be distressing to users. This was the same thing that Vadim said a month ago. I asked if these cartoonish images could really be all that disturbing. I said something like - “the idea was that the foundations of democracy are being threatened, and so she and the artist wanted to capture this idea in an entertaining way.” He again said it went against guidelines so would have to be changed.
4) He said that was it, and I asked about the name. I told him last time I was told that the name of the game would have to be changed, and that Apple seemed pretty adamant about it. He said he didn’t have that anywhere in his notes, and he hadn’t heard that. He said that the name was okay.
He asked if I had any questions, and I asked him why none of this came up in the first, second, or third approval process. I told him that Jackie said that the game wouldn’t be available in Germany because it contained a swastika, but she told me that a year and a half ago when it was first published. So obviously, Apple knew a long time ago that the game had that symbol, and it had scenes of damaged government buildings and klansmen, but no one told us at that time that these were problems. I said it was frustrating because if Jackie knew that, she could have changed her approach then instead of spending another ten months coding. I asked why a game that had nothing but positive reviews and had won a major award would be abruptly pulled in the middle of January when nothing had changed for months. I said it just didn’t make sense to me. He told me that they have people that randomly review all the apps to make sure none have been approved that don’t adhere to the guidelines. Bad Hombre was randomly reviewed in January, and it was found to have these concerns that went against their guidelines.
It was all very pleasant. He was very nice, and my questions were not argumentative or challenging. I told him that as a parent I was just disappointed for my daughter and wanted to better understand how this situation happened. He apologized and said he understood. He promised they would be happy to review it again once these changes had been made.
That’s the summary of the call. Pretty similar to the last one.