eMags and Censorship: Where Do We Draw the Line?



It is not a secret that Apple is notoriously strict about “adult content” on the App Store, but a quick search over the weekend showed that Apple’s reach may go beyond just apps and into the catalogs of content providers as well. And since our findings indicate the same content is unavailable on a new Android app, does that indicate that self-censoring to avoid blockage on iOS devices is resulting in entire categories of material being unavailable on mobile devices?

Zinio, the e-magazine company, sells subscriptions to Playboy on their website. But you can’t find Playboy in the iOS or Android Zinio stores. To be fair, Playboy has a separate web app for iOS, so it is plausible that it is a Playboy issue and not an Apple one…but what about other adult options?

Being the dedicated sort, we did a little test here at Gear Diary. We purchased 1,000 Sexcapades to Do If You Dare through Zinio on a Mac. When the same Zinio account was pulled up through the iPad app, the book was not available for download. In fact, it didn’t appear in the iOS library at all! Nor can you search it for purchase on Android … and you won’t be able to view any adult content purchased through Zinio on your Android Zinio app either.

Zinio addressed this in the Help section for their Android and iPad apps:

Q: Why aren’t adult titles available on my iPad?

A: Zinio must abide by the guidelines set forth by Apple in order to have our app available on their iTunes store. One of those guidelines currently prohibits content deemed mature. We are sorry that this title, and similar titles, are not currently available on the iPad. They are, however, viewable on Zinio.com or by installing the Zinio Reader on a conventional laptop or desktop.

Q: Why aren’t adult titles available on my Android device?

A: Zinio must abide by the guidelines set forth by Google in order to have our app available in the Android Market. One of those guidelines currently prohibits content deemed mature. We are sorry that certain titles are not currently available on the Android. They are, however, viewable on Zinio.com or by installing the Zinio Reader on a conventional laptop or desktop.

Now, maybe, just maybe, there’s a publisher restriction here. But it seems like an awfully suspicious coincidence that the ONLY restricted titles were adult ones. First we couldn’t find Playboy, and then the random adult book title chosen wasn’t iOS Zinio Reader compatible? That’s stretching credulity immensely.

So is Zinio purposely not offering adult content on iOS and Android? It sure seems that way. This is not only very “nanny state”, apparently implying that consumers aren’t responsible enough to have adult content on their mobile devices, but it borders on outright censorship. Today adult publications are verboten in Zinio for mobile devices. What’s next? Political magazines? Satire that’s potentially offensive? Religious talk?

Since Zinio sells the content elsewhere, it stands to reason that the issue may be on the mobile device maker side. But let’s consider the implications: Zinio sold you content. Not through Apple or Google’s in-app purchase systems, or even on their devices. Yet you cannot even download the material to your personal device. Not selling it is an iffy point, but not letting someone access their own content is downright repugnant. It’s the digital version of burning books and banning titles.

So where does this end? Are we going to see adult content pruned from iBooks (apparently there is some NC-17 content in their library currently) or Google Books, and what about Amazon and B&N? Neither currently carries adult magazines but they sell ebooks with mature content. What will happen when an “enhanced” adult eBook is released? And who is the arbiter of what can be sold? Are smartphone providers really living in fear of an adult material backlash? And Zinio isn’t afraid to sell mature material since they offer it through desktop options. So someone, whether it is Apple or Google or the Wizard of Oz, is creating this bizarre disconnect; you can read and buy a pornographic magazine on your computer, but not on the tablets that are supposed to replace that computer.

We used to get complaints at Borders about our adult content books and DVDs. But the truth is, we carried them because people bought them. And it was not our place to judge, or hide, or censor. We sold books without prejudice or judgment, and I expect the same courtesy and openness as a digital consumer. To act in any other fashion is to entertain the very frightening possibility that any content is up for grabs…and then suddenly we have always been at war with Eurasia Eastasia.

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About the Author

Carly Z
Carly has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to her first PDA (a Palm M100). She quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. She loves writing about ebooks because they combine her two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?