So on the 22nd of March, Apple quietly pulled the Exodus International ‘gay cure’ app from its App Store. This means that Apple pulled the app 5 weeks after it was initially made available (on the 15th of February) and about one week after the app sparked major controversy, leading to a 150,000 strong petition against it at change.org.
Over the course of many online and offline conversations I’ve had with people around the issue a number of things have come to my attention which I feel should probably be shared. Firstly, and most importantly, Apple was not making any money off the Exodus App, which was a free app and contained no in app purchase/donation options. This suggests that either approving the app was an unintentional mistake or an attempt to pander to the conservative (well, fundamentalist) Christian market.
If the latter is the case, I can understand (but do not like) the idea that it makes ‘business’ sense to attempt to court two diametrically opposed markets if that is possible. I also see nothing intrinsically wrong with doing so, assuming that such service (in terms of selling to and customer service) can be done ethically. My issues really come to the fore when one group attacks another and a corporation bills that as being acceptable (or inoffensive) on the basis of trying to maintain a relationship with the group doing the attacks. I should also note that one of the main reasons I object to Exodus is that their arguments are based on misinformation and the twisting of scientific knowledge to the point where the authors of that knowledge object to them doing so. If a gay person made an informed decision, based on factually accurate information, that he or she wanted to go through a ‘gay conversion’ program, religious based or not, I wouldn’t like it, but if there was no duress and the information considered was all appropriately represented by all sides, I would have to respect their decision to try.
This leads on to the first option of this possibly being a mistake. To date there has been no statement or apology from Apple addressing the app or the removal of the app (if you have seen one or see one later, please let me know), and if was a mistake, I would have to ask what Apple plans to do about the fact that its ‘mistake’ led to the dissemination of misinformation deliberately created to lead people into a dangerous, unregulated program run by amateurs and unlicensed individuals. Given the known danger such misinformation can have on vulnerable individuals, I still don’t see that just saying ‘sorry’ is enough. If a weak apology is all Apple can muster (assuming one comes) then I don’t see how its actions as a corporation are anything more than an exploitative attempt to court the gay market for its business where convenient but refusing to take action where its actions could be endangering the people it happily takes money off. This is what, for me, would make inaction now speak more than it’s support of gay marriage in California in 2009, although not every person (gay or not) will make that distinction. Supporting gay marriage is a rallying cry, it’s good positive publicity (assuming it doesn’t stop the Christians buying Apple’s products). Helping those suffering through depression and identity issues, is probably even more worthy, but it’s not a positive, uplifting, anthem and it would also risk drawing attention to Apple’s mistakes (something it has been consistently avoiding), as well as raising the ire of the fundamentalist Christian groups.
From a cynical marketing perspective, the fundamentalist Christians tend to be more organised than the gay community, largely because they have a hierarchical leadership structure and they tend to follow orders. The gay community is a disparate group of people who tend to not have leaders or follow orders. If I was making a bet on reactions, I would bet it’s easier to offend the gay community and get away with it (in terms of them still buying your product) then offending the fundamentalist Christian leaders. It is primarily for this reason that I don’t believe it likely that Apple will do anything more than a low key apology for their ‘mistake’. A large proportion of the press are hailing the removal of the app with ‘Thank you Apple’ and ‘you’ve done the right thing’ which to me is missing the point. That’s just saying ‘well, we’ll stop doing something bad, but we won’t do anything about the impact our actions will have had’. And it’s true that it would be difficult or even impossible to define the scope of Apple’s direct impact, or even for Apple to find and help those it will have exposed to harm, but using that as an excuse to not to anything is wrong. Even addressing the issue for those currently at risk is something I would consider to indicate genuine consideration and remorse for Apple’s actions. A plain apology at this point, would read as the path of best marketing policy to keep the status quo alive.
In other news, Apple is suing Amazon.com over trademark infringement. To wit, it’s new Amazon App Store.