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Porn the tip of the trouble iceberg for Apple

11 Jun

It would appear that I’m not the only one taken aback by Apple’s hypocritical stance toward pornography. A mysterious group known as “Freedom From Porn” orchestrated a bit of a protest this week in San Francisco, where Apple CEO Steve Jobs was giving one of his regular sermons, and made the point loud and clear by messing with the company’s advertisements.

The group, about which almost nothing is known, started up in response to Deacon Jobs’ recent email to a journalist in which he proclaimed that Apple was the world’s saviour from all that is wrong and carnal. In response to the journalist, who had written to question why Apple was referring to the iPad as “revolutionary,” Jobs wrote that his mobile products provided:

…freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a-changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.

The group took Jobs to task on their relatively scanty website and posted a brief, if somewhat funny message to him:

Dear Steve, You don’t want people looking at vaginas on the tablet you named after a feminine hygiene product? Something smells fishy. Sincerely, Dudes who like porn

That wasn’t all they did. Timed with Jobs’ speech on Monday, wherein he unveiled the iPhone 4 and the sure-to-fail video calling feature for it, the Freedom From Porn guys took to the streets and modified Apple’s bus-shelter ads. They stuck overlays onto the ads that depicted the iPad displaying various porn sites, and even went so far as to show Jobs’ Facebook page, complete with messages from his assistant that his subscriptions to Penthouse and Hustler had been renewed.

Here’s the video of the hooded figures doing their deeds late at night.

If nothing else, I suspect this got the famously micro-managing Jobs’ attention. I wonder if he was angry or amused?

But seriously, it’s becoming clearer – at least to me – that Apple is steamrolling towards some serious trouble. Of perhaps greater concern than the company’s stance towards porn is its general inability to place nice with others. The other day, Google – through its AdMob subsidiary – took a serious swipe at Apple for its new iPhone advertising service, iAd. Apple has decided to go to war with Google, which makes just about all of its money through web advertising, and is effectively looking at booting Google ads off the iPhone.

AdMob complained about this blatantly anti-competitive move and it didn’t take long for U.S. authorities to come calling. The Federal Trade Commission is already getting ready to investigate. And now that Apple is the biggest technology company in the U.S., you can bet the bank this is only the start. A whole lot of what Apple does is potentially anti-competitive, from the way it runs iTunes and its app store to how it locks down its devices (i.e. the iPhone) and keeps competing software off it (i.e. Flash) to how it forces accessory makers to play by its rules. Apple is the new Microsoft, and we all know what happened to that company – saying it’s on a death spiral might be a bit much, but probably not too far from the truth.

A number of commenters have already pointed out that Apple has been to this barbecue before. The company was kicking butt in its early days with some really nice personal computers, but it got greedy and didn’t want to partner and share. Before Jobs knew it, his company was dying and he was thrown out on his keester for his arrogance. Some pundits are predicting that history could repeat itself.

That wouldn’t surprise me because Apple – and Jobs – are cut from the same old school technology cloth as IBM and Microsoft. Those two companies ruled their respective tech epochs, hardware and software, with proprietary, monopolistic business practices that eventually landed both in hot water with anti-trust authorities. Once they had their asses handed to them by investigators, they were never the same again.

Apple seems to be trying to play the same kind of game, but this time the rules are significantly different – and they have been for the past 20 years or so. The internet and web were both founded on openness principles that required partnerships and working together. The TCP/IP principles that govern the internet’s connectivity were designed and freely distributed to anyone who wanted them because the internet’s creators knew that the only way it could take seed and grow was if it was indeed free and open. The same went for Mosaic, the first web browser, which was made available for free.

Openness and freedom are thus the fundamental principles of the interweb era, which began to really supplant the software era about a decade ago, and they’re the fundamentals behind this era’s most important company, Google. Google certainly makes its share of mistakes, but it also doesn’t behave in the same anti-competitive ways that its predecessors did. Apple, meanwhile, is a company that is trying to wrest control of this era from Google, but it very clearly doesn’t seem to understand the new rules and in fact seems intent on playing by the old ones.

What does it all mean? Well, If I was a betting man, I’d pick now as a good time to sell my Apple stock. If the company’s got anti-trust investigators breathing down its neck, it doesn’t matter what kind of new awesome products it can come up with or how many iPhones and iPads it can sell.

(By the way, do you like the blog’s new look? Blogger just introduced some new templates, which I’ll be experimenting with over the next little while.)

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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in apple, Google, internet, microsoft, sex

 

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