Scruff has already been hit by App store censorship. Who’s to say that it (and Grindr) won’t be hit again? … Apple, apparently.
On Monday, June 8, Apple announced its iOS 15 operating system at its WWDC 2021 event. As part of the opening keynote speech, Apple shared that it’s not only releasing new features for its products but also new guidelines.
Apple’s newly updated review guidelines clarify some earlier contested and confusing issues with the policies. In addition, they add new requirements for apps. One such change was the banning of “hookup” apps that include pornography or are used to facilitate prostitution. Specifically, the new policy change reads as follows:
1.1.4 Overtly sexual or pornographic material, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” This includes “hookup” apps that may include pornography or be used to facilitate prostitution.
Already, these words are reminiscent of other moments of online censorship. For instance, gay dating app Scruff got into trouble with the Apple app store in 2019 after it was viewed as not fitting content policies. Scruff then released a message to users that profile photo guidelines had been tightened.
“All gay and queer apps must enforce app store content policies or risk being removed from the app stores altogether, and this happened to SCRUFF earlier this year,” said Scruff CEO Eric Silverberg in a statement at the time. “Had this removal been permanent, it would have been devastating to our company and our community.”
It also brings back memories of when Craigslist removed its personals in 2018. Congress passed Congress Bill H.R. 1865. That bill was a combination of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill made it so websites are liable for any misuse of their site, specifically with the solicitation of protection in mind. In order to curb that, Craigslist’s team decided to remove the personals page entirely.
With those incidents in memory, a few Grindr & Scruff users raised concerns on Twitter about the new Apple app policy changes. Apple then released information through Appleinsider to say that despite this new pornographic “hookup” app ban, Grindr and Scruff will remain intact. Apple shared that the policy wasn’t meant to attack legitimate dating platforms. Instead, the policy change is meant to prevent apps from presenting as dating apps while working as hubs for prostitution or human trafficking. So, it seems this situation is adjacent to the Scruff and Craigslist incidents but isn’t entirely the same.
This policy change is also meant to take aim at scammers and fraudsters while also seeking to boost privacy. This was a result of “recent scam app developments” within Apple. As the Washington Post writes, Apple’s scam problem is so egregious that two percent of the company’s top-grossing apps are fraudulent. And tech companies/news sources have been noticing this problem more frequently in the past year or two.
So for gay tech fans out there, you can sleep slightly easier. Apple isn’t outright targeting gay hookup apps. But be careful out there folks. You never know how this policy change will inadvertently affect digital gay spaces.