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May 20, 2009

Easter Eggs sneak apps past iPhone gatekeepers

Posted: 08:37 AM ET

Apple is no stranger to criticism over its iPhone App Store approval process. Developers must subject their programs to policies that are vague and often inconsistently enforced before gaining access to the iPhone App Store.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone software developers kit, March 6, 2008.

While opinions about which programs are appropriate may vary, Apple has the final say in what you can install on your phone (unless you jailbreak your phone, but that tactic can void your warranty).

However, Wired illustrates one method developers are using to sneak contraband code past the Apple censors and on to iPhones everywhere:

Despite Apple’s reputation for being a notorious gatekeeper with its iPhone App Store, there’s a way to sneak in content such as porn, profanity or potentially malicious code, with no hacking required: Easter eggs.

A virtual Easter egg is content that is hidden by the developer within a program. Easter eggs often take the form of secret messages or jokes, but they can also alter the way a program behaves.

Wired spotlights one developer's struggle to gain app approval:

Apple initially rejected Jelle Prins’ iPhone app Lyrics, which displays lyrics for the songs in your music library, including the profanity contained in some song lyrics. Apple cited that fact as the reason for turning Prins down. So Prins installed a profanity filter and Lyrics got approved.

But he also secretly planted an Easter egg (programmer parlance for a secret feature) into the app for users to unlock the dirty words if they so pleased. All users have to do to unlock the filth is go to the About page, swipe downward three times and select the option to turn off the filter.

Since Apple seemingly doesn't have the manpower to test every application that is submitted for approval, Easter Eggs have a pretty good chance of slipping past the censors.

What do you think? Should more developers take advantage of Easter Eggs to add functionality to iPhone Apps, or is Apple's iron curtain a necessary nuisance that should be respected?

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • iPhone


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Captain Arcain   May 20th, 2009 11:05 am ET

Truth be told, it's understandable that Apple wants it's device to remain a family friendly and "wholesome" device. Keeping it that way retains it's marketability in a much broader spectrum of potential buyers. However, this also means that you've spent hundreds of dollars on a rather nifty gadget that is restricted by someone else in it's use. Remember, you're buying the hardware... You're only renting the operating system and you agree to those terms when you sign up for an account. *Can* they do that? Yes. Because you agree to it. *Should* they do that? Well, no. We're all big boys and girls and we should have the choice to put whatever we want on the iPhone or whatever other device we spend a heap of money on. That's why parental controls and filters were invented.


Robert   May 20th, 2009 11:45 am ET

I couldn't agree with the Captain more. If we're concerned about content then we need to do the parenting, not Apple. It's my responsibilty as a father to know what my child is up to. If I want the uncensored lyrics, that's my business. I should get to decide what's indecent and what's not. It's a subjective thing that an Apple croony shouldn't be doing for me. I'm so tired of others telling me what I should and shouldn't be exposed to. It hasn't worked since the fabled garden of eden and it never will.


Ubik   May 20th, 2009 2:15 pm ET

This draconian control Apple has over what I can or cannot install on my phone is a major factor in why I bought the Android G1 phone instead of the iPhone. I know I could have jailbreaked my iPhone but I don't want to go through the extra effort.


Duke Nukem   May 20th, 2009 5:22 pm ET

Is there an app that lets you play Duke Nukem on an iPhone? That was a sweet game.


Kevyn   May 20th, 2009 6:26 pm ET

We don't have this problem on Android. My G1 phone does everything the iPhone does, and more. There's an app to display lyrics (whatever they may contain), and apps can also be installed from the web (without hacking) as well as the Market (like the App Store).

Apply needs to let either people use their devices the way they want, or give them away for free (with all the restrictions they see fit).


Bill   May 21st, 2009 12:23 pm ET

Fine, let Apple do it. Not like we need to let them, they will do it anyways, but really, any efforts to go against the grain could be better spent on transitioning your business from Apple to a company that sells products that allow you to enjoy them the way you want to.

The best way to protest Apple's control is with your dollars, not Easter Eggs. Granted, Easter Eggs are a hilarious and inyourface type of retort to Apple's stance on various apps, and I hope it keeps up. However, as a consumer, not a developer, we have the power of our money.

I, for one, have gone through recent unemployment and financial hardships. When I do get back on my feet, I want to get a nice modern phone with all the up2date amenities that one expects. I won't be purchasing an iPhone, though, believe that.

If you don't like the lyrics, stop listening; if you don't like the violence, stop watching and change the channel; likewise, if we don't like the restrictions, buy another product. The debate should NEVER be about how valid or "moral" Apple's policy is becuase we are not forced to own one. The debate should be about what other product is available that provides the service you want, and whether that other product is worth buying.


Jenny   May 22nd, 2009 7:06 am ET

I'm sorry, but "We" are not ALL "big boys and girls". You see, not everyone who uses a smart phone is actually an adult.

My children, and others like them, use the iPhone to play games when we are waiting in a restaurant or doctors office, and just about every middle-schooler at my son's school has a smart phone of some kind.

Having Apple screen out objectionable material makes the phone and service much more appealing to me. If they were to allow 'any and all' apps on the phone, then I would need a 'parental control' feature in order to keep the service.


Mark   May 22nd, 2009 11:26 am ET

If it were up to me, I'd have parental controls set up so that I could choose my "rating authority" – either Apple, or some other rating group; access to the ratings should be through a published API – and then set application access by those ratings for my children. I can understand Apple rating an application "useless," "pornographic," or "a complete waste of your money," but if it's MY phone, and MY money, I should be able to regulate myself.

Software is essentially the tangible expression of the market of ideas, and Apple is attempting to assume control over that market, at least in the case of the iPhone. I'm a huge Apple fan, and have made my living with the Mac for over 20 years, but Apple's regulation based upon what content they like and what content they don't is certainly the height of arrogance.


gg   May 22nd, 2009 1:13 pm ET

book nook!


Brad   May 22nd, 2009 3:02 pm ET

Jenny:

I would direct you to the terms of service for the Apple app store.

"2. AGE REQUIREMENTS FOR USE OF THE SERVICE. This Service is available for individuals aged 13 years or older. If you are 13 or older but under the age of 18, you should review these terms and conditions with your parent or guardian to make sure that you and your parent or guardian understand these terms and conditions. "

What this says to me is that you are the parent and should be looking at what your children do. We don't need Apple to censor what we do just because parents are unwilling to watch what their children are doing. Take responsibility for yourselves – don't give Apple the power to control what we as adults should be able to determine for ourselves.

As for "parental control" you are the parent, control it, teach your children the morals and ethics they need to survive in the world today so that they won't need to depend on you to always censor what they are doing.


Kim   May 22nd, 2009 3:20 pm ET

Can you imaging how apple would shove stuff down our throat if they had Microsoft's market share?


Ayan Sharr   May 23rd, 2009 2:30 am ET

The recent Cheney rants are simply his fear of him and buddies being tried as war criminals and going to the slammer . . . why are not the commentators picking up on this?


Oh, Please...   May 24th, 2009 10:41 am ET

Kim –
Really? Shoving stuff down your throat? Are you being handcuffed and forced to use Apple products? Is your family threatened with bodily harm if you're not buying iPhones and apps? Or, as I suspect, are you CHOOSING to use a product that is offered with a VERY CLEAR "Here's how we do it, take it or leave it" set of rules?

A company offers a product. You choose to use it or not. It's not a constitutional right to have everything you demand provided to you at all times.


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