A company called Sikalosoft launched an extremely poor-taste iPhone application this week: Baby Shaker. It was a tiny, poorly-programmed game that merely played a baby’s cry repeatedly until you shook the phone enough. And after a brief appearance on the iTunes Store Apple pulled the app, after a predictable outcry.
The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation (an organization trying to address Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury) sent out an opposing message far and wide, titled “Something’s Rotten at Apple” decrying Apple and the app on as many grounds as possible. The foundation’s founder, Patrick Donohue wrote to Steve Jobs, “You have no idea the number of children your actions have put at risk by your careless, thoughtless and reckless behavior! We will do everything we can to expose your reckless actions and reverse the horrific impact it will have on the innocent children throughout the United States.” Further, the organization’s Jennifer Dickens’ wrote in a press release sent out by the organization, “This horrible iPhone app will undoubtedly be downloaded thousands of times by others in that same young male demographic–the population group that is already statistically the most likely to shake babies.”
The fact that young babies die from neurological injuries is undoubtedly horrible–it’s a sad, sad thing. But the SJB Foundation and the Internet outcry about this has completely missed the point. Both Donohue’s and Dicken’s words are directed at Apple, and imply that by making this app public the company is likely to actually increase the number of alleged shaken baby syndrome cases. That’s clearly bunk, and it’s also akin to blaming Nintendo or Microsoft for perceived increases in violent crimes caused by kids playing the games other companies sell for their consoles. It’s a “political correctness gone mad” stance.
Other commenters note that it’s another black mark against Apple’s poor management of the iTunes App Store approval process. And yes, it’s arguable that the app shouldn’t have been approved–but only on “bad taste” grounds, I would suggest, until someone shows me a verifiable piece of science to demonstrate how this app would cause actual harm. And remember there are tens of thousands of apps in the App Store, all of which were released within the last year. This implies that a team has to fully test and approve over 600 apps every day, checking for fitness to hardware and software guidelines, and making sure there are no viruses or malware. Clearly some bad apples will slip through at that rate of testing, and mistakes or poor judgments occur.
Apple obviously has a back-up review team to spot those mistakes, and responded in a timely manner by pulling the Baby Shaker application from its Store yesterday, essentially doing the “right thing” very quickly.
Perhaps a clear and sensible “well done Apple!” compliment is actually in order, though I’d caution the team at iTunes to calmly examine the reasons behind the next public outcry–because there will be one–lest it become overly censorious for questionable reasons. I’d also aim a “what the hell were you thinking?!” question at Sikalosoft, the real perpetrators in this case.