Apple and Parler

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:00 PM

I hear a lot of consternation from quite a few people I know about Apple removing Parler. I’ve spoken out against deplatforming on a number of occasions — whether I agree with the views or find them distasteful — but I think this particular case is a more nuanced issue. I also suspect, if anything, Parler was given an extra long leash, not a short one. Here’s why I say that.

So far, I take Apple at their word, because I think they’ve earned it by years — or rather decades — of consistency. In the 12 years since the App Store was first offered, I’ve seen them remove both Left and Right leaning apps that, for example, fail to meet Apple’s standards for illegal content moderation. Most often this requirement has been invoked due to failure to moderate explicit or illegal drug related content — something much of Big Tech rarely seems to care about, but Apple consistently has.

I strongly believe Apple is sincere in saying Parler would be allowed back on if they implemented an effective form of moderation, something Parler actually agreed to do by submitting the app to the App Store in the first place. I doubt many people have read the App Store agreement every single app submitted is required to agree to, but the terms are clear and Parler was violating Apple’s terms of service (this wasn’t a new requirement Apple created).

If we judge people and companies by their records, then we need to note what Apple has done in the past gives good reason to think this standard they’ve required of apps regardless of ideology is the issue, not the ideology itself. I agree with folks like Edward Snowden on the dangers of deplatforming, but until Parler tries to comply with Apple’s terms and Apple still rejects them, I’ll be inclined to believe Apple is sincere here and that they aren’t simply deplatforming.

I will get upset if they remove Bible software (a scenario mentioned to me) or otherwise give me reason to doubt their sincerity. Right now, that is merely a hypothetical, though. What is true right now is that they are every privacy loving person’s best friend in Big Tech, standing up for the rights of people, regardless of ideology, to have their information kept secure and private from all eyes other than the ones the user wants to share it with.

Part of what isn’t being reported by commentators who are upset, I think because most people aren’t accustomed to the innards of IT infrastructure agreements, is that this is really nothing particularly unusual. For example, in order to get sites hosted, such as FaithTree’s various sites, my contract with my data center prohibits me from hosting illegal content, violent content, from spamming people and so on.

When someone’s site I hosted was compromised years ago and sent out spam, I had to prove I effectively responded to the complaint and took swift action in order to avert termination from the data center. Much like Parler, I was given just a short window of time to demonstrate compliance or face deactivation.

I saw the letters Apple and Amazon sent Parler and they looked very much like the one I received. The critical (alleged) difference is that it appears Apple (and Amazon) reported content to Parler which Parler did not comply in removing over the course of several months, despite multiple warnings from those providers. I think due to the high profile of Parler, those two companies refrained from action until it became front page news this week, but smaller folks like myself would have been removed from both the App Store and Amazon’s AWS months ago had we likewise failed to comply after being reported.

If anything, then, I think Parler received extra “grace,” rather than ideological discrimination. Hopefully this helps ease anyone’s mind who is worried.

There is plenty to be worried about that people are finally paying attention to because of this incident, even if it is over a misunderstanding. While I think we need to judge Apple’s present actions on its record heretofore, and not hypothetical future wrongs (and thus I believe this present controversy is a false alarm), perhaps this is a good reminder that we depend too much on too few companies (and some, like Google, do not have the sterling reputation that Apple has).

This point goes back to some of the warnings folks like Edward Snowden and other thoughtful members of the technocrati have been saying for years when very few folks on either side of the ideological aisle wanted to listen. People, whether they are liberal or conservative or something else entirely, all should seek to build the Open Web with things like blogs, strong encryption (without government backdoors), open source underpinnings controlled by no one entity and so on.

In the meantime, though, I think as this story plays out, we will see Apple has acted sincerely here and thus we can recognize that it has been one of the best champions of a better, more open future.

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