The Offensive “Shaken Baby” iPhone Applet: What Can Companies Learn?

baby-shaker

By now, most of the world has heard about this: The latest app on the Apple App-Store, which sold for $0.99 invited buyers to “See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!” Shake your phone, and the baby stops crying. Almost as soon as it went up, it came down, and for good reason.

Outrage was swift and response was swifter. Apple removed the application from its store. Many bloggers and commentators wondered how such an application could get past the eagle-eye of the computer giant, who claims to review each applet uploaded to the App-Store.

The lessons here extend past the boundaries of good taste, or discussions about the state of moral decay in our society that we think a shaking baby game is funny (this harkens back to the “hot coffee” patch for Grand Theft Auto that allowed game players to rape and murder a prostitute). It underscores the importance of making clear what a company’s obligations are to match their public statements with their legal obligations.

Apple says it reviews each applet that goes into its App-Store, but for what, exactly? The public statement implies a general review for everything from operability to appropriateness. Its actual terms suggest a much more narrow scope of review, limited to profanity and operability. This is actually a reasonable limitation; what is not reasonable is to imply something else. The press seems to think that’s what happened here.

Whether Apple is guilty of giving the wrong impression or merely the victim of a witch-hunt is not important: the lesson for large companies is this: make a “terms of use” policy you can live with, and instruct marketing folks to stay within the lines of that policy.

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