For the frequency with which the United States launches drone strikes abroad, often killing civilians as a result, write-ups in the mainstream news aren’t always easy to spot. A smartphone developer wants to change that, but Apple isn’t interested.
Drones+, the latest endeavor from Brooklyn-based app developer Josh Begley, provides information from real and reputable news sources about executions conducted by unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft from high in the sky, the likes of which has become a hallmark of America’s wars abroad and has come with a daunting tally of deaths, both intended and collateral. At least it would do as much, that is, if Apple ever allows it to be available to iPhone users.
Josh Begley has pitched his Drones+ phone application to the team that approves programs for the Apple iPhone three times now, and three times Josh Begley has been rejected. He’s also heard a trio of excuses from Apple — each one a new reason for excluding his brainchild from the their app store — and now suggests that it might be more than just a user-experience or interface issue that’s keeping Drones+ from being downloaded on iPhones around the globe.
First, Apple told Begley that Drones+, an application that maps known US-involved drone strikes and aggregates news articles about them, was “not useful,” despite the list of other news aggregation apps being all but endless. Days later, they delivered a second rejection regarding the appearance of a corporate logo within the interface. Now for the third time in only a month, Begley tells Wired that Apple thinks the content included in Drones+ could be considered “objectionable and crude.” The same, of course, could be said about the strikes themselves.
Begley, a graduate student at NYU, sees Drones+ to be useful, though, and doesn’t quite agree with the reasoning of “objectionable” content is a qualifier for exclusion. After all, he says, all his app does is offer news on a specific subject; judging by a video teaser of Drones+ he’s put on the Web, its functionality ends right there (link).
With drone strikes becoming increasingly more commonplace and the death toll only growing, mainstream media recognition of the attacks is still few and far between. Begley aims to make news articles about drones strikes that much more accessible for smart phone users, but says even his basic, functional, working and very real app is being excluded on the basis that the realities behind regularly occurring drone strikes isn’t something the world is ready to have handed to them so easily.
“If the content is found to be objectionable, and it’s literally just an aggregation of news, I don’t know how to change that,” Begley tells Wired.
And while other news aggregation programs are openly available for download through the Apple-sanctioned app store, it seems the leading smart phone producers aren’t ready to let the public have the ability to easily peer into the realities of drone warfare, or at least not from the palm of their hand.
“I wanted to play with this idea of push notifications and push button technology — essentially asking a question about what we choose to get notified about in real time,” Begley tells Wired, really making it as easy as having real-time drone updates beamed straight to the iPhone of anyone that installs the app. “I thought reaching into the pockets of U.S. smartphone users and annoying them into drone-consciousness could be an interesting way to surface the conversation a bit more.”
Apple, however, isn’t so sure. If Begley doesn’t bring his app up for another appeal, his third and final rejection would have been on the basis that his app “contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.”
Not objectionable, according to Apple, are thousands of other games and applications available for download through its app store. Pocket God, at $.99 per installation, asks players, “What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful?” Other applications that let users add a moustache to the face of friends — or remove hair from their head with a program called Baldify — are among the most popular paid apps available. Trigger Fist, a third-person shooter game that puts the player right into a warzone with an arsenal of weaponry, is the second most popular game available on the iPhone right now.
“I’m kind of back at the drawing board about what exactly I’m supposed to do,” Begley says.
Perhaps he’ll have better luck if he advertises Drone+ as being for entertainment purposes. Apparently only then the realities of war are worth having in the hands and pockets of smart phone users around the world. In the meantime, civilians will have to just look up statistics on America’s ongoing drone strikes themselves to find out the more difficult way that a US-led attack in Islamabad, Pakistan last week killed 17 people. Or play Angry Birds, if that’s you thing.
Earlier this year, Begley lent his talents to Kickstriker, a crowd-sourcing website that parodied the popular Kickstarter page, but instead of helping charitable start-ups get off the ground, asked for assistance in raising money for projects such as a torture chamber to be used by Blackwater.