Sex Offender Locator App Yanked from App Store
Apple pulls one of the top ten best-selling paid apps from its store.
Aug. 7, 2009— -- Yet another iPhone app has been given the boot by Apple.
On Thursday, Apple removed Offender Locator, a popular application that had been among the top ten best-selling paid apps in the company's App store.
The application lets users view the locations of registered sex offenders living in their area.
Though the 99-cent version has been pulled, a free version is still available.
The application was developed by ThinAir Wireless, a GPS-tracking and wireless monitoring company.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABCNews.com. But in a statement released today ThinAir said its paid application "was removed due to unsubstantiated, inaccurate legal concerns."
The specific legal concerns have not been spelled out publicly at this point, but commenters on the technology Web site CNET and the blog TechCrunch suggested the state of California prohibits the sale of criminal information for profit.
In its statement, ThinAir also said that the second version of its application, which had been submitted to Apple last week, included a structure to donate 10 percent of the proceeds from its app to support philanthropic organizations, including Stop Child Predators.
In July, ThinAir CEO Howard "Trip" Wakefield told ABCNews.com that the app is one part of the company's suite of "Peace of Mind" products. Other services in markets include a GPS tracking system for teenagers and an alert system that sends subscribers real-time text messages from government agencies about weather and emergency situations.
"The offender locator is kind of like the first step in peace of mind -- who's your neighbor," he said. "Our goal is really to allow parents to be aware of the different people that are just living right around the corner from them."
Although he wouldn't provide specific numbers, he said both the free and paid versions have been downloaded tens of thousands of times since early June. The free version provides fewer locations of sex offenders in the area than the paid version, and only lets users access the app a limited number of times each day.
The app prompts users to type in their address and then generates a map of the area with pinpoints showing where sex offenders have said they live.
Although the information is available for free on each state's sex offender registry Web site, Wakefield said they charge a price for the full version because the technology to power their service is expensive. The information may be free online, but their tool makes it easier for the public to access it, he said.
While ThinAir's paid application is no longer available in the App store, other paid applications that say they track sex offenders, including Sex Offenders Search and StaySafe Personal, remain.
However, ThinAir's Sex Offender Locator isn't the only app that's run into problems. Here are few others.
About two weeks ago, "Zombie School" attained hot-button status for its controversial treatment of school violence.
The app's premise, as articulated by its developer, Retarded Arts, is this:
"Your local campus has been infected by the Zombie Virus!!! Every one is infected!!! Will you run or will you fight to eliminate all the Zombies... You have the control over the Zombie shooting tower that your supporters have made you. Starting with a single bow and arrow start eliminating the Zombies. As you progress, you can buy Grenades, Gun or even upgrade your bow to shoot double or triple arrow at a time!"
The application had been available for 99 cents in Apple's App store before it was pulled by Apple.
Apple, which didn't immediately respond to ABCNews.com' requests for comment, has not explained why it pulled "Zombie School" from its store.
But the application's thorny subject matter presumably had something to do with it. In an email to ABCNews.com, the developers of "Zombie School" acknowledged the sensitive nature of their application but contested the notion that it was in bad taste.
"We fully agree that violence should be kept out of school but the game never was intended to invoke this concept," the developers wrote.
The program displays a black and white picture of a baby with the sound of crying. Users shake the iPhone to stop the crying until Xs appear on the eyes of the baby. The company behind the app, Sikalosoft, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Apple offered an apology soon after it appeared, the same day the App Store reached 1 billion downloads.
Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said the game was "deeply offensive" and should not have been approved for sale, according to The Associated Press.
"We sincerely apologize for this mistake," Kerris said in a statement.
Apple told him it was turned down because it didn't contain any user-accessible functionality, he said.
Macia said he adapted the app in March so that it's now an E-Book of P.T. Barnum's "Art of Money Getting." But he's still waiting for word from Apple.
"Their process -- why they approve stuff and why they don't -- is really a black-box type of thing," he told ABCNews.com.
Still, Apple's vague process has not stopped Macia from trying, and failing, again on another app. He learned in January that his game "Prohibition 2: Dope Wars" had also been rejected.
In the game, users pretend to be drug dealers in New York City trying to make as much money as possible in 30 days by trafficking illegal substances.
Macia said Apple rejected him because it violated the company's guidelines for developers.
In its Software Development Kit (SDK), it says that "Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users."
But Macia told ABCnews.com that it's not like iTunes and the App Store don't contain any potentially offensive material. "The iTunes store has so many songs and movies about cocaine and killing people," he said.
And the number of farting applications easily exceeds 100, he added. "I find 137 farting applications objectionable," he said. "I find that a lot ruder than a game."
Macia went back to the drawing board, changed the name of the game to "Prohibition 1: Bootlegger," replaced the names of drugs with the names of alcohol and went back to Apple.
This time, the company approved it. Encouraged, Macia successfully submitted another game "Prohibition 3: Candy Wars," set in a future in which candy is illegal.
Since he'd scored with two games that were only cosmetically different from the original one that had been rejected, he tried once more. But, no such luck: It got the thumbs down again.
Apple told the developer it was "inappropriate sexual content," according to PCWorld.com.
But MGD Development Director John van der Burg said, "Watching an episode of Baywatch on TV shows a lot more than iBoobs. Besides that, iBoobs is just a 3-D model and not even real."
The developer behind "Slasher" was also told his app was out of line.
Created by Josef Wankerl of Austin, Texas, the app displays a kitchen knife on the screen and plays the "horror" sound when you make a stabbing motion with the phone or iPod Touch.
He said it appeared August 6 but was yanked August 7.
Apple told him it violated the part of the guidelines that objected to "obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content," he said.
"I have no problem with people objecting to 'Slasher.' After all, everyone has their own personal taste. I do have a problem with the App Store refusing to publish 'Slasher' because they don't like it," he wrote to ABCNews.com in an e-mail.
He also said it bothers him that other approved Apps could also be seen as obscene or offensive. "Bar Fight Bottle," for example, lets you pretend to smash a bottle with your phone and other apps serve as pretend pistols, shot guns and ray guns.
He said he improved the app and was told, upon resubmitting it, that it had been approved. But despite weeks of e-mails, the status still says "Removed from Sale."
"I thought there was a decent chance they would reject it but it was a chance I was willing to take," Vance told ABCNews.com. "I was disappointed."
He said Apple told him the app was defamatory. But Vance disagreed and decided to let the company's CEO know about it.
Surprisingly, Jobs wrote back: "Even though my personal political leanings are democratic, I think this app will be offensive to roughly half our customers. What's the point? Steve"
Vance wasn't entirely pleased with the company but was impressed by the CEO and took it as a good omen, he said.