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Hey Apple! Either ban gambling apps or allow porn

It’s not easy being a developer of risqué apps. On the one hand, you know that there’s a throng of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch owners out there with credit to burn on the kinds of apps that make their palms go sweaty and their breathing shallow and raspy. But on the other hand, there’s Apple.

Apple has earned itself a reputation as one of the most prudish, puritanical companies on the planet. Its wanton removal of apps featuring any hint of sexual content or nudity without so much as an FYI to the developers has ruffled feathers and, in some circles, made it a figure of fun.

But Apple didn’t ban sex apps because they had the potential to be dangerous or damaging. No, it was complaints from “women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable” and “parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see,” that did it according to Phil Schiller.

Sex is bad, but gambling is ok

Having always taken a similarly hard line on gambling applications, Apple has recently relaxed a little, let its hair down and allowed the likes of Betfair, Paddy Power and other bookies to offer gambling applications for the iPhone and iPad.

Presumably the relatively complex, text-heavy gambling apps are considered too dull-looking to catch a child’s eye – not like the bright, flashy (not to mention fleshy) porn apps with lots going on. But if Apple is so worried about offending women and damaging children, why isn’t it equally concerned about the damaging effects of gambling any more?

Here’s my real concern: gambling is addictive. That’s not to say that sex and porn are not addictive and can be equally damaging both financially and emotionally. Is it fair to say, though, that gambling is more universally addictive? I think so.

Gambling addiction

Let’s be clear: I’m no expert on addiction. But as someone who barely gambles, I recognise how easy it would be to start and never stop; that flush of adrenalin as you turn a couple of quid into enough for a three course meal, the feeling that anything is possible, that your luck couldn’t possibly fail. I’ve had that feeling from winning a tenner on a scratch card, I can’t imagine how overbearing it would be if I won £1,000 betting on the horses or the outcome of a football match. I recognise that scary impulse to do it again and again and again, playing the odds because eventually you’ll come out on top.

Surely such easy access to bookies and that euphoric sense of certainty that your next big win is just around the corner is not the best thing? It stands to reason that the easier it is to do something, the more likely you are to do it.

Easy access can be a bad thing

The mobile phone makes all kinds of things readily accessible. I like playing solitaire, for example, but it’s a fuss and a half to dig out the playing cards and shuffle them and deal them and you need a table big enough and… well, it’s an effort. But playing solitaire on an iPhone or iPad is as easy as tapping a button. Consequently, I play it a lot – and I mean A LOT. It’s not taking over my life or anything, but once I get going I find it hard to stop.

There are other things that we now compulsively check every three minutes – like Twitter, Facebook, emails… if we didn’t have quick and easy access to them on our mobile phones, we probably wouldn’t even think about them half as much, let alone actually check them.

Luckily for me, solitaire is free to play over and over again. But what if I was betting on whether or not I’d win each time? Or if the app offered me odds on whether I’d beat my fastest time, or if I’d get all the aces in the first hand? Whole new kettle of fish.

Around 350,000 people in the UK are thought to have a significant problem with gambling. When online gambling took off a few years ago, placing bets and playing with real money on the internet meant you could take a dangerous habit behind closed doors and allow it to fester undisturbed. Mobile phones are much more personal and private than PCs and laptops so it stands to reason that gambling from your phone makes it easier to cultivate a problem under the noses of your unsuspecting loved ones. With Brits spending 45% of their time watching TV and using mobile phones and other communications devices (according to Ofcom), who’s really going to notice?

Let’s not forget the outcomes of a gambling addiction can be catastrophic; mental health and personal relationships can be ruined, not to mention the financial implications of debt. 

Apple’s moral compass

It seems strange that Apple is so keen on stopping explicit images and videos from falling into inappropriate hands, but is perfectly happy to give other groups of the population easy access to potentially damaging content. It smacks of double standards – if on-handset gambling is set to go the same way as online gambling, the apps are only going to get more inviting, simpler to use and flashier (like all those online bingo adverts that have suddenly sprung up featuring talking foxes, spangly singers and women of a certain age).

Will Apple deem these too attractive to underage users and instigate a blanket ban on gambling apps? Or perhaps more inviting apps might never make it past the approvals stage – after all, Apple could have learned from past mistakes.

I’m not saying that censoring the App Store is right or something we should be encouraging, and I’ll freely admit that gambling in moderation is not bad or wrong. But I do think Apple could do with a little bit more consistency on what it morally agrees with. If the company is so concerned about its users’ morality, then go all out. If not, just give up the nudity vendetta and let us take responsibility for our own applications.

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