• Heritage Action
  • Heritage Libertad
  • More

June 9, 2010

Porn Need Not Apply on iPad

By

Late on a Friday night in May, when the small children of first-generation iPad users were fast asleep after bedtime stories on its fascinating new digital display, a tech blogger launched this e-mail fireball at Apple CEO Steve Jobs:

"If Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with 'revolution?' Revolutions are about freedom."

So began an e-debate between the blogger and the CEO.

"Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data," Jobs wrote back. "Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a-changin'"

Seems what set the blogger off was Apple's new iPad commercial. The ad touts "revolution" with images of an iPad owner on a scooter, a parent and child reading Winnie-the-Pooh, and examples of 200,000 applications, aka "apps."

Among these apps you can find almost anything from The Wall Street Journal to Weber grill recipes to air hockey. But you won't find porn.

That bothers the tech blogger. So do other standards Apple set for developers who want to use its platform to reach consumers. The blogger "worries about Apple's growing power to limit self-expression."

So he shot back: "I don't want 'freedom from porn.' Porn is just fine!"

Jobs suggested the blogger might grow concerned about porn when he has children.

He's right. Parents have good reason to care about pornography. Production and consumption of porn are rampant, and children are particularly vulnerable.

About 116,000 online searches for child pornography happen daily, according to "The Social Costs of Pornography," a recent report from the Witherspoon Institute. Every second, more than 28,000 Internet users are viewing porn.

That includes young people who trip on it accidentally.

More than a third of adolescents in a national sample in 2006 said they had been exposed to sexual content online without seeking it, the Youth Internet Safety Survey found. Worse, one in seven said they had received unwanted sexual solicitation. A Columbia University study in 2004 reported that 45 percent of teenagers had friends who regularly viewed porn online.

Adolescent girls who consume pornography are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, studies show. Therapists report seeing porn-addicted adolescent boys who act out sexual aggression.

Among adults, pornography consumption is associated with divorce, infidelity and decreased sexual satisfaction.

Production of porn is massive and growing - in quantity and edginess. Time magazine reporter Pamela Paul, author of the book "Pornified," notes that the porn industry makes 11,000 films a year compared with 400 from Hollywood.

And pornography exploits all our postmodern world's multimedia possibilities, including music videos, video games, "sexting" via cell phone ... and would-be iPad apps.

"Innovation has piled on innovation, making modern pornography a more immediate, visceral, and personalized experience," wrote Ross Douthat in a 2008 Atlantic article, "and our moral intuitions are struggling to keep up."

Apple has stretched minds - not to mention wallets - with its steady stream of innovations from iPod to iPhone to iPad. The company exists to push the boundaries of the tech user's experience.

That's why it's encouraging to see corporate leaders exercising moral intuition about the cultural space they're creating in a product such as the iPad. Since one of the iPad's signature features, Safari, provides access to the Web, the vast content includes porn sites and still presents challenges for parents.

It's a different story when it comes to Apple's app domain, though.

As Jobs explained in his e-mail exchange: "(I)t's about Apple trying to do the right thing for its users. ... (W)e're just doing what we can to try and make (and preserve) the user experience we envision. You can disagree with us, but our motives are pure."

According to his blogging critic, that's Jobs imposing his morality on the rest of the world.

But, as the Apple CEO correctly points out, there's a difference between censorship and corporate stewardship: "Users, developers and publishers can do whatever they like - they don't have to buy or develop or publish on iPads if they don't want to."

The reality is that communication of any sort gives all of us an opportunity to express our morality. Technological advances exponentially expand our freedom to impress that morality on the world around us.

With that freedom comes responsibility.

And by putting boundaries on what providers can offer on its app platform, Apple does a service to parents still struggling to keep up with today's innovations, get ready for tomorrow's, and shape their children's moral intuition for a lifetime.

Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in the Sacramento Bee

Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.


The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.


The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.


More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.


Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"


Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."


Sign up to start your free subscription today!