In 2012, an NYU graduate student named Josh Begley had designed a promising new app he hoped Apple might accept. It was called Drone+, and it aimed to alert users by SMS every time a drone strike killed people overseas. Over the course of the next two years, Apple rejected different versions of Drone+ (later “Drones+” and “Dronestream”) no less than five times.
Begley had some trouble understanding why. The explanations he received seemed more arbitrary than technical, but Begley kept tweaking the app anyway. Then, last week, Apple finally accepted Begley’s app. It’s now called Metadata+, and will still send you drone strike push notifications–though, by official description, these fall under the general guise of “real-time updates on national security.”
The term “metadata” appeared innocuous enough to scrape by, Begley writes. He says he was told by an Apple employee that even though his app only took data from reports in the news, drones fell into a category of “concepts” that the company decides not to advance. If he broadened his scope, Begley would be good to go.
When Begley submitted a version of his app without any data (called “Ephemeral”), the software was accepted. He followed up with a similar version called Metadata+, then filled in all the historical drone strike information once the app went live. It’s a drone strike app, whether Apple likes it or not.
Of course, the term “metadata” doesn’t just refer to phone surveillance–NSA metadata analysis has also reportedly aided drone strikes. In a recent piece for The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill interview a former drone operator who reports that the U.S. military and CIA used cell-phone tracking and metadata analysis to deliver strikes without confirming the identity of the targets. The NSA helped geolocate the SIM cards of suspected terrorists’ mobile phones, which then gave other agencies the green light to take those suspects–and possibly innocent bystanders–out.
“You can imagine my surprise waking up to Jeremy and Glenn’s story yesterday,” Begley tells Co.Exist.
Metadata+ is now available in the app store.