January 18, 2021

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Apple Warns Parler Of Imminent Ban Due To ‘Serious App Store Guideline Violations’

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Apple has warned alt-right social networking app Parler that unless it moderates and removes content that encourages illegal activity, it could be banned from the App Store.

Parler executives have 24 hours to respond with a moderation improvement plan, according to a copy of Apple’s email provided to Buzzfeed.

“We require your immediate attention regarding serious App Store guideline violations that we have found with your app, Parler,” Apple’s letter says. “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.”

This is not a shock to anyone who follows the Parler Watch group on Reddit.

Screenshots of Parler messages advocating fighting, preparing weapons, “hunting down cowards” and traitors like “RINOS, Dems, and Tech Execs” are commonplace, like this one from the past day.

Interestingly, as Apple’s letter cites, Parler’s own terms of service explicitly condemn language like this, in section six about “Threats of Violence, Advocacy of Imminent Lawless Action, Threats to Dox, Bribery or Criminal Solicitation.”

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The problem is that Parler moderation is haphazard at best and non-existent at worse.

“Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service,” Apple’s letter says. “Content of this dangerous and harmful nature is not appropriate for the App Store. As you know from prior conversations with App Review, Apple requires apps with user generated content to effectively moderate to ensure objectionable, potentially harmful content is filtered out. Content that threatens the well being of others or is intended to incite violence or other lawless acts has never been acceptable on the App Store.”

Given the language used in Apple’s letter, it seems that Apple has already rejected an app update the Parler submitted. Now the app is subject to imminent removal.

Of course, if that actually happens, it doesn’t mean that the millions of people who have downloaded the app already will lose access to it. That would take an extraordinary additional step by Apple: deleting apps off its customers phones, and is incredibly unlikely.

According to Google Play, over five million people have installed the Parler app on Android. According to data from Apptopia, about 6.6 million people have downloaded it altogether, so the app does not appear to be very popular on iPhone.

If Parler doesn’t find a way to boost moderation capability, it will likely lose the ability to continue to grow, at least on iPhone.

That seems hard to avoid given this part of Apple’s email:

“Please remove all objectionable content from your app and submit your revised binary for review. Such content includes any content similar to the examples attached to this message, as well as any content referring to harm to people or attacks on government facilities now or at any future date. In addition, you must respond to this message with detailed information about how you intend to moderate and filter this content from your app, and what you will do to improve moderation and content filtering your service for this kind of objectionable content going forward.”

That’s going to be challenging to do with just 24 hours notice.

Doubtless many Trump supporters will seize upon this as another piece of evidence that “big tech” is against Trump and against right wingers.

There’s no word right now on whether Google will be following suit.

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