August 16, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
The Android Market has things it’s not supposed to have. There are sex apps, work that violates the intellectual property of dozens of right holders, and apps that are technically illegal. Sadly, it also includes material that’s offensive.
That became clear last Friday when analyst Michael Gartenerg commented that there are pro-Nazi themes in the Android Market. The offending items were soon removed, sparking debates about free speech and the validity of having a pre-screening process like Apple.
Android Developer Advocate Tim Bray addressed both concerns in a post on his personal blog, saying this incident is a prime example of why Android’s current market conditions work. Bray points out that the offensive material was removed after a takedown request was filed, showing that
“Anyone can publish anything, but there’s a smooth well-oiled process for ripping the weeds out of the garden, once they get noticed.”
I’d actually disagree with Bray on that point. While he’s right to state the model of the Market does work, the execution of it definitely does not. I have personally flagged apps that have remained in the Market, and a search of the market is likely to reveal apps or themes that violate the market’s terms of service or trademarks. There is a process to have these apps removed, but I wouldn’t clarify it as “well-oiled.”
As for the issues of free speech, I agree with Bray that “[The Android Market] is not a public commons, it’s a store.”
Google is no more responsible for carrying Nazi propaganda than Macy’s is for carrying Osama bin Laden t-shirts. Companies have a right to determine what items it houses and what it removes. Anyone who wants something that violates Google’s terms of service can download the app from its source and install the APK (provided they aren’t on AT&T). While the Android Market system is certainly flawed, draconian pre-screening found in other platforms is not the answer.
I’d rather not get into the deep philosophical issues of free speech in anarchy or constrained speech in a walled garden, but Bray is right about Android not being a public arena. Free speech is not absolute, especially when discussing a private entity’s right to express its beliefs by not letting offensive material associate with its name or products.