It's no longer as easy to offend as it used to be. Four decades after comedian George Carlin was arrested for his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," most of those once-verboten words are now commonplace on premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, and even on some basic cable outlets like FX. Just this weekend, venerable ESPN college football commentator Lee Corso dropped the F-bomb on live television, and while Corso delivered a scripted apology within hours of the incident, there was little if any outrage. We've all heard it before, and we'll all hear it again. That's just the way it is.
But while it's increasingly difficult to offend, it's still possible. You just have to really work at it. Some mobile applications seem to go out of their way to outrage consumers, relying on shock value to generate attention and drive downloads--some have gone so far overboard that consumers and activist groups have successfully campaigned for their expulsion from the app store ranks. What kinds of apps could provoke such a visceral reaction?
(No longer available)
Developed by Method Apps
The App Store is home to a multitude of quack applications that claim to cure everything from hair loss to hiccups, but only the now-deleted Exodus International app promised to cure homosexuality. The Exodus International app was created by the ministry of the same name, a group dedicated to "encouraging, educating and equipping the Body of Christ to address the issue of homosexuality with grace and truth." But grace and truth were conspicuously absent as the Exodus app extolled the virtues of so-called "reparative therapy," a form of treatment touted as a tool to "change" sexual orientation and discredited by professional medical organizations including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Counseling Association.
Reaction to the Exodus International app was swift and decisive. Gay rights nonprofit Truth Wins Out launched a Change.org online petition calling for Apple to remove the app, also writing an open letter to Apple stating "Apple doesn't allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its app store, yet it is giving the green light to an app targeting vulnerable LGBT youth with the message that their sexual orientation is a ‘sin that will make your heart sick' and a ‘counterfeit.' This is a double standard that has the potential for devastating consequences." After the petition collected close to 150,000 signatures, Apple deleted Exodus International in late May, with a spokesperson explaining "We removed the Exodus International app from the App Store because it violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people." The App Store giveth and the App Store taketh away
Jew or Not Jew?(No longer available)
Developed by J Soft
The name says it all: The now-deleted Jew or Not Jew? challenged users to identify the roots of thousands of celebrities, athletes, politicians, titans of industry and Nobel Prize winners, judging them not on their achievements, fame and influence but solely according to their heritage--you know, just like the Nazis did. The not-so-subtle anti-Semitic implications of Jew or Not Jew quickly attracted the attention of Jewish groups and anti-racism organizations like France's SOS Racisme, which argued the app violated French laws banning the compilation of citizens' personal details without their consent--laws enacted following the Holocaust, no less. The French outpost of Apple's App Store banned Jew or Not Jew? soon after, followed by the storefront's U.S. counterpart.
Developer J Soft (spearheaded by Johann Levy, a software programmer of Jewish origin, according to Le Parisien) obviously anticipated the outrage Jew or Not Jew? would provoke, and its App Store seller's page bent over backwards to deflect criticism, albeit in the most absurdly condescending terms possible. "This app is only intended for fun. Nothing more! It does not aim to prove the superiority of any racial group," J Soft blathered. "Remember that for each Jew listed in any one category there are many, many more equally talented non-Jews! The app simply shows that through hard work many Jews, often from immigrant families, have managed to achieve recognition."
(Available for $4.99 on Android Market)
Developed by Kage Games
A multiplayer title so reprehensible that even NFL quarterback and convicted dog-fighting ringleader Michael Vick spoke out to condemn it, KG Dogfighting (formerly Dog Wars) puts players through the paces of raising, feeding and training virtual canines expressly for the purposes of battling them to the death. It's even more crude and senseless as it sounds, and if not for shock value, it wouldn't have any value at all. Of course, that doesn't stop developer Kage Games for charging a hefty $4.99 to download KG Dogfighting as well as offering in-app purchase options like training gear, weapons, guns, steroids and bling.
Kage Games' Android Market seller's page wants desperately to have it both ways. On the one hand, the developer revels in its bad-boy behavior--its promotional spiel screams KG Dogfighting is "AN APP THAT WILL NEVER APPEAR IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!" while urging critics to "Just go slingshot some virtual birds to kill some virtual pigs." But on the other hand, Kage wants you to know they're simply misunderstood artists--and that the game isn't really about fighting dogs, it's about fighting for freedom of speech and never giving in to The Man.
"This is a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting, and we believe in the power of a modern media tool to educate and raise awareness of the real horrors," Kage states solemnly. "What makes the Google Android platform special is it gives the freedom and responsibility to the individual users to decide what to put on their phones as opposed to the phone carriers and app stores making value judgments on our behalf."
Puh-leeze. This isn't about satire or freedom--it's about making a quick buck off a mediocre game that glorifies animal cruelty. It's debatable whether or not Kage Games are bad boys, but there's no question that they're bad developers.--
Baby Got Back(Available in the Apple App Store for 99 cents)
Developed by Sony Music Entertainment
Anyone around in the early 90s will remember Seattle-based rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot's song "Baby Got Back," which celebrates the female backside. Apparently Sir Mix-a-Lot is looking to capitalize on the 20th anniversary of that song's popularity with the release of an iOS app. Yes, it's hard to believe that "Baby Got Back" has come back to haunt us.
The app, which costs 99 cents and must be purchased only by those over age 18, promises "buttloads" of features, including Sir Mix-a-Lot's Booty calls, a social media Text Mix and the Ba Dunka Dunk club game. Plus you get access to the "Baby Got Back" music video, which was briefly banned by MTV in 1992.
While many of these features seem like harmless fun, what we find distasteful and over-the-top is the Mix Makeover photo lab, which encourages users to take a new or existing photo and manipulate any aspect of it. Yep, that's right. With this app users can blow-up and stretch any visual assets (read: female butts) and then share the results with their friends.
No female wants their rear-end appearing bigger than it really is. Considering how many women have body image issues, it's disturbing that there would be an app that actually encourages users to distort a body part that causes so many women so much anxiety. We think Sir Mix-a-Lot should have figured out a better way to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of his popular song without crossing the line.--
Ugly Meter(available in the Apple App Store for 99 cents)
Developed by Dapper Gentlemen
Do you really want to know how attractive you are? If so, just ask your iPhone. Available for 99 cents on iTunes, the Ugly Meter iOS app scans a photo taken by the user and analyzes their facial structure in real-time. Once it's done scanning it provides the user with a score on a ten-point scale.
According to Dapper Gentlemen, the maker of the app, the Ugly Meter uses facial recognition software to measure the symmetry of the face and other features.
Score a 1 out of 10 and you can hold your own with supermodels. But score of 10 out of 10 and be prepared for a nasty response such as "You're so ugly, when you walk by a bathroom the toilet flushes." Ouch.
While the app's creators say they are just having fun, we find this app offensive because of the chance it could be used maliciously, if in the wrong hands. The Family Online Safety Institute agrees with us and notes that this app could be used for cyberbullying. The group has even called for Apple to put an age limit on the app, making it only available for those over 18.
Nevertheless Dapper Gentlemen defends the app, and even says on its web site that the app turned into "a worldwide crazy fest, thanks to a media system that likes to lie and overreact to get people's attention."
The company also noted that its app is the No. 3 top paid and No. 3 top grossing app in Apple's App Store. Congratulations Dapper Gentlemen. Now how about doing something good with your success and putting an age limit on this app.--