Steve Jobs, Porn, and Corporate Moral Responsibility

Culture, Moral Philosophy, Technology — By on June 1, 2010 at 12:58 am

When it comes to corporate moral responsibility, the media is consistently double minded.

Steve Jobs, one of the most inspired visionaries of our time, is more than just a businessman–and Apple is more than just a business.  From an early age Steve Jobs set out to run his own company and build products with a culture infused into them.  Jobs’ culture appreciates beauty, embraces creativity, and challenges its users to live a life of simplicity.  It’s the culture as much as the product that Jobs is selling.

If you want what he’s selling, you play in his world under his terms.  He is king of the empire he created, an empire in which most people happily participate.  The numbers are staggering. Apple’s iTunes marketplace, which supplies apps, music, movies, books and other media to Apple’s line-up of blockbuster media products, such as the iPod and iPhone, has over 125 million users and in the last ten years Apple’s market cap value has soared from $4.8 billion to $231 billion (an increase of 4,700%).  Today it has overtaken Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.

But Apple is more than just a technology company, Apple is a culture all its own.  Jobs shapes Apple’s culture of simplicity, cleanliness, and liberation.  He considers the entire process from product conception to launch.  His goal is to keep the culture of his product pure, clean from the clutter that slows down traditional PCs, and to ensure that Apple’s brand remains strong.  Not only does he oversee the development of the product, but he also sets the terms by which others can interact with and develop for Apple technology.

And Steve Jobs hates porn.

Jobs sees porn as enslaving and thus anathema to the culture of liberation built into Apple and its products.  As he said in an e-mail to Ryan Tate at Gawker, his goal is “freedom from programs that steal your private data.  Freedom from programs that trash your battery.  Freedom from porn.  Yep, freedom.  Times are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away.  It is.”

Jobs anti-porn crusade is incidental to his goal of spreading (or selling) Apple’s culture.  When Jobs sat down with his team to launch the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the myriad of other technologies for which the company is renowned, he likely did not build them in order to build technological walled gardens to block out porn.   In other words, ridding the world from porn was not his ultimate goal.  Rather, Jobs saw an opportunity for a future market filled by a new kind of revolutionary technology, he went forth, and he created.  The popularity of his creations proved Jobs right again, and again, and again.

Jobs’ crusade against porn has raised the ire of porn consumers who feel his “imposition of morality” entirely unfair and unjust.  Style magazine Dazed and Confused goes so far as to scornfully call their iPad version the “Iran edition,” making a comparison to the Muslim theocracy and the rules of the iTunes store.    The “Apple chilling effect,” as it is becoming known, required the magazine to remove nipples and other body parts from their content.

Dazed and Confused isn’t the only publication to fall victim to Apple’s decency policies. The app “Gay New York: 101 Can’t-Miss Places” has been rejected several times due inappropriate content.  As one journalist put it, “the problem here is that it’s awfully hard to assemble an authentic guide to ‘Gay New York’ when Apple objects to content as innocuous as a well-muscled guy in a thong…”  The obvious conclusion here is that Jobs is to blame because he feels Apple has a moral responsibility to keep indecent content off its technology.

I think it is more condemning of gay culture than Steve Jobs that a New York gay hotspot app cannot pass a basic decency test.

Here’s some hard truth: if you don’t like Jobs’ standards, don’t use his stuff.  If you’ve got to have your porn or you must have unseemly pictures in your New York gay hotspots app,  use another product.  Droid does apps.  When you’re shopping at the iTunes marketplace, you’re shopping in Steve’s world where Steve is king.  You’ve chosen to shop there; you’ve chosen to subject yourself to his rules.  Rex Lex, the king is the law.  Comparisons between Apple and Iran’s theocracy are intellectually dishonest.  The Iranian people do not have the choice of opting out of the Mullah’s edicts.  You don’t have to shop at the iTunes store.  Ever.  Not once.  Steve Jobs cannot stop you from porn consumption – he just won’t let porn into his marketplace.

Here’s where the media is double minded: if it were global warming against which Jobs was on a moral crusade, he would be a hero.  Nobody would care if Jobs prohibited apps that promoted the despoiling of wildlife habitats.  Likewise, journalists wouldn’t complain if Jobs prohibited apps helping people locate brothels in nations where sexual slavery was the norm.  Concern about global warming and sexual slavery arise from the same moral conscience as concern about porn addiction.  Hey media, let’s be honest, you don’t care that Jobs has a moral agenda or that his agenda influences his company and its products, you simply don’t approve of his moral agenda.  Please, for the sake of me, your reader, have the integrity to admit the point and the decency to make an intellectually honest argument.

*Image credit: Sigma Group*


Tags:
  • http://twitter.com/PastorSproul Mike Sproul

    Thanks for a great article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Wow, good for Steve. Not many folk make the connection between porn and slavery, especially when making said connection forces them to miss out on millions in profit (as is the case for Apple, I'm sure).

  • drsteeve

    You're welcome!

    Thanks for sharing it with your friends on Twitter!

  • drsteeve

    Yeah – jobs doesn't go quite so far as to equate porn with slavery, but it's pretty clear from his e-mail to Ryan that he sees it as something which limits freedom in a bad way. Also, it can be inferred from that same e-mail exchange that Jobs feels porn is bad for kids.

    Two big things I took away from this was that 1) innovation and moral uprightness are not opposed. Often a product is either cutting edge and full of morally questionable content or it is some shoddy rip-off of a cutting edge product sans the morally questionable content. We Christians are really good at making products of the latter type. 2) When you are the creator, you set the rules and determine the values.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaParriera Joshua Parriera

    Steve Jobs hates porn. I knew Mac products are the best, this goes to prove it from the top of the Mac chain

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=822819378 Jessica Resinger

    Wow, totally refreshing to know of one corporation that has sold out. That is, in my eyes the most valuable form of character one can have in our culture. I always heard apple was better. Now I know why. I'm sold. Maybe now my son can have the FREEDOM to be on the computer.

  • drsteeve

    Jessica,

    I think you're right on here, but I will warn you that porn sites, etc. are still accessible on Apple computers. I think on the issue of porn, parents cannot be too careful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Glenna-Kennedy/100000292817326 Glenna Kennedy

    very interesting, a good read

  • Branden

    I never thought of Jobs as a moral crusader, but you make a compelling argument out of decent business sense. For anyone who doesn't know Steve Jobs is a Buddhist. Apple may be onto something with its tyrannical marketplace philosophy, but I wouldn't say that makes them a good example of corporate morality.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/28/apple-

  • drsteeve

    Brandenk,

    It depends to what you are referring when you say “tyrannical marketplace philosophy,” if you're referring to their closed-development style (versus Google's open development), then I think attributing some degree of tyranny to them is appropriate.

    However, if you're referring to their anti-porn policy, I'd say that the degree to which they are controlling content is no greater than the degree to which most companies control content and certainly no greater than the degree to which newspapers in this country control content. Given that fact, I'd say it's hardly fair to call them tyrannical.

    Jobs is no more a moral crusader than are his energy conscious silicon valley neighbors; it all arises from the same moral conscience and action taken by the same moral prerogatives and company rights.

    I believe the only reason Jobs is taking flack for this, or even being seen as a moral crusader, is because we have this oddly indifferent attitude toward porn despite what psychologists tell us about its addictive and harmful effects on us.

  • Mumon

    “Rex Lex, the king is the law.” is about the worst argument one could make. We Americans once fought a war of independence over “Parliament is the law.” “Rex Lex” went out of fashion with the Magna Carta.

  • drsteeve

    Mumon,

    Yeah, that's the risk that Jobs is taking. He believes strongly in maintaining control over the entire operational process and in keeping development closed to people who don't comply with Apple's culture. From a business standpoint, it can be argued effectively that Google's open development mindset will give their products a competitive advantage against Apple in coming years.

    Personally, I'm not sure where I fall on this debate. Apple's tight control of its culture and products has resulted in remarkable technological advancement of the kind that only allowed by a focused and streamlined drive toward innovation. Because they know who they are and why they do what they do, they are able to be effective, setting aside clunky programs and bad ideas that would keep them from attaining their goals.

    However, though Google lacks the kind of focus and cleanliness that Apple brings to the market, at some point Google will have enough people doing enough good work that, by the law of large numbers, they will have enough good stuff to compete with Apple. If Google can figure out a way to feature the good stuff without prohibiting the less effective or less interesting stuff, then they might be able to meet and surpass Apple's market share.

    If I had to make a choice today, I'd side with Apple simply because I believe that currently we are in a period of invention that requires a sharp focus and attention to detail that Google (I believe) cannot match. Also, from a more “philosophy of business” angle, I incline toward companies that have a well defined sense of culture behind them as I think they are more humane than those simply pumping out products for consumption.

  • drsteeve

    Brandenk,

    I just read the HuffPo piece that you linked to. It's a sad story, but I think it is honestly more reflective of the absence of good standards and business practices in China than it is of Apple itself. This is not to say that Apple is without obligation to those abused people in China – certainly Apple has an obligation to do the right thing. However, Apple also must be able to trust those companies to which it outsources product development. If those companies seem trustworthy (that is, if one has good reason to believe them trustworthy) or until internal audits (like the one that found out the 17 violations) prove otherwise, Apple should not assume they are being lied to.

    1st world standards of development will be brought to the developing nations. The more business we do with them, the more demands we can make re: operational protocol. This stuff takes time, some measure of grace is needed (but only some).

  • Kelye

    Good for Jobs! It's about time someone in business doesn't “cave” to the culture. I applaud your stance and commend your integrity to what you believe.

  • Pingback: Freedom from Porn: Steve Jobs Shapes Culture «Remnant Culture

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    Great article. I've posted my comments on the matter (and quoted you) over at my blog: http://remnantculture.com/?p=1168

  • Jeff

    It was mentioned yesterday that Apple will be having an App store for the Mac to control what the desktop experience is like. People who want sin will always find it, but it’s good to see Christ’s ethical influence in at least on major firm. I wonder what happened when Job’s faced death a few years ago?

  • Pingback: A Voice From… » Blog Archive » Steve Jobs: The Secular Prophet

  • Peter

    I watch porn on my Mac anyway every day.

  • Pingback: Which walls do you prefer? — Evangelical Outpost