TechCrunch is reporting that Apple removed the 500px app from the App Store due to “pornographic images and materials.” Apple says in an official statement that it has “also received customer complaints about possible child pornography” being accessible via the app. This action continues what appears to be Apple’s conservative attitude toward nude imagery, but also raises questions about how far the tech company is willing to go to curb access to photos it deems inappropriate.
The app, which is owned by the photo-sharing site 500px, allows users to access the images hosted on 500px.com via their smartphones. According to the article, Apple flagged a recent update for the app “because it allowed users to search for nude photos.” While this search functionality does exist as part of the update, 500px COO and co-founder Evgeny Tchebotarev tells TechCrunch that precautions were made so that the app would default to a “safe search” mode that would not display nude photos. In order to change the search mode, users would need to access the 500px website and make the change manually.
Tchebotarev says that 500px does not allow its users to post pornography. He notes that many professional photographers and photo enthusiasts use the site, and that there is a difference between artistic nudes and pornography. Currently 500px community members flag inappropriate images, though the company is in the process of developing technology similar to facial recognition software that would automatically flag questionable images.
Apparently, 500px had been working with Apple to make the necessary adjustments to the app update. However, the changes would take at least a day to implement and during the interim Apple chose to pull the app from the App Store. To date, nearly one million users have downloaded the 500px app.
Aside from the usual question about what constitutes “pornography,” we have to wonder how far Apple is willing to go in terms of regulating apps that would allow adults to view nude images. Does this apply to search engines as apps, a la Apple’s own Safari browser? What about popular photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Tumblr, both known to have their fair share of nudity? Furthermore, what about third-party apps such as Flipboard and Google+ that allow their users to easily access 500px’s content?