In 2012, developer Josh Begley designed a basic iPhone app called Drones+ which would send notifications to users whenever a U.S. drone strike was reported. Begley’s intentions are undoubtedly noble, he wants Americans to be more directly connected to our military actions abroad, specifically unmanned strikes that seem to go entirely unnoticed by the populace at large. As he stated on the Intercepted podcast this week, “I could not think of anything that felt further away than the drone war. And so I wanted to be in touch with it a little bit more closely. So I was sort of wondering what it would mean if I received a notification every time one of these drone strikes was reported in the news. Say I’m walking down the street, my phone buzzes, maybe I think it’s my friend texting me, and then I’m sort of surprised by this unsettling news. Would that change my relationship to the drone war at all?”
It’s hard to see why a free news app aiming to bridge gaps between the American public and the military industrial complex that costs the country around $600 billion per year would be a hard sell, but it has been. As Begley notes in an article on The Intercept, the app was rejected five times before being accepted in 2014 and subsequently downloaded by over 50,000 people, only to be removed a year-and-a-half later. Apple claimed the content was “excessively objectionable or crude.”
Apple is right, the content is objectionable and cruel, that’s the whole point—that’s why the app exists. This response from Apple is so stunningly obtuse that is borders on satirical. This app only aggregates news on drone strikes, that’s all it does. It’s not the app’s fault if the actions it reports on are upsetting. It does not create any material, objectionable or otherwise, it functions as an information compiler, an intermediary.
Begley announced this Tuesday that after a grand total of 12 attempts, Apple once again accepted his app—now titled Metadata+. Unfortunately, later that day Apple removed it. Again.
— Josh Begley (@joshbegley) March 28, 2017
Begley also created Dronestream, a real-time, database compiling all covert U.S. drone strikes dating back to 2002. It’s an essential follow on Twitter. But while the site and the Twitter page are vital resources, neither medium is as pervasive or effective as a mobile phone app. Tweets can be trampled and missed in mere minutes and checking a website on a daily basis requires far more agency than just looking at your phone when alerted.
The drone war was expanded under Obama, and with the Trump administration working to loosen counterterrorism restrictions, it’s primed to grow even larger.
Apple’s basis for rejecting Drones+ / Metadata+ is ridiculous and somewhat suspicious. There is no logical reason why this app should not be offered in the App Store.
And no, “our government doesn’t like it” is not a logical reason.
So contact Apple, tweet at them relentlessly, let them know that this app needs to be included in the App Store.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.