Apple’s Policy on Satire: 16 Apps Rejected for “Ridiculing Public Figures”

Written by Jason Grigsby on

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons, but he can’t get his iPhone app into the App Store because it “ridicules public figures.”

Fiore’s award brought new attention to Apple’s rejection. The press has covered the story fairly extensively and a people have been asking if Apple’s policy conflicts with journalism and editorial content.

John Gruber wrote a great piece about the app rejection in which he said, “If it is Apple’s policy not to allow any political satire in the App Store, that’s terrible.”

Great question: Is it Apple’s policy?

Steve Jobs wrote one of his famous short emails about Fiore’s app rejection saying, “This was a mistake that’s being fixed.”

Lest Steve’s comments confuse you, let me clear it up. This has been Apple’s policy since the App Store launched. I wrote about how this “policy essentially bans any editorial cartoons” last year.

Still don’t believe me? Here are 16 applications that have been rejected using the phrase “content that ridicules public figures” going back to September 2008.

16 17 Apps Rejected for “Ridiculing Public Figures”

Rejected Accepted Notes
iHeckle 17 Apr 2010 Humor app. Doesn’t actually insult public figures, but still rejected.
NewsToons 21 Dec 2009 Apple asks Fiore to resubmit after he wins Pulitzer Prize.
iBop Image Packs Unknown 17 Dec 2009 Images rejected were made free for download outside App Store.
Great Obamo Mind Reader App 25 Nov 2009 Developers say Michelle and Barack have actually seen the app and think it is funny.
OutOfOffice! 15 Nov 2009
VernerLegal 14 Nov 2009 Nov 2009
Bobble Red 09 Nov 2009 14 Nov 2009 “You have to wonder how much of the decision was based on the press covered and image hit Apple had taken…”
Posh needs Nosh 30 Oct 2009
You Lie 9 Oct 2009 6 Nov 2009 Rejected for saying, “You Lie, Mr. President.” Developers removed “Mr. President.”
Someecards 07 Oct 2009 29 Oct 2009 Asks “if it’s Apple policy to reject apps that contain any jokes about public figures”
BidensTeeth 6 Jun 2009 Was based on a very funny website
Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery 19 May 2009 21 Aug 2009 Rejected because of Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama HOPE image.
MiniPops 9 May 2009 Nov 2009
Obama Trampoline 07 Feb 2009
My Shoe 05 Feb 2009
Bobblicious 28 Oct 2008 26 Nov 2008 Removed controversial content to get approved.
Freedom Time 21 Sep 2008 A cartoon character of George Bush on a clock counting down toward inauguration.

Steve Jobs on Freedom Time

Still have doubts about whether or not Apple can have a standing policy that rejects satire—the essence of political commentary? Let’s look at what Steve Jobs said about Freedom Time.

“Even though my personal political leanings are democratic, I think this app will be offensive to roughly half our customers.  What’s the point?”

Good political commentary and satire will by its very nature offend many.

How to Get Your Satire App Accepted

What can we learn from the apps that were rejected and then later approved? There are two main ways to get your app accepted:

  • Remove the satire and appease Apple.
  • Get enough press coverage to pressure Apple to change it’s ruling.

Mark Fiore in the New York Times sums up the situation well.

“Sure, mine might get approved, but what about someone who hasn’t won a Pulitzer and who is maybe making a better political app than mine?” he asked. “Do you need some media frenzy to get an app approved that has political material?


Update: Added iHeckle to rejected app list.

Jason Grigsby

Jason Grigsby is one of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Mobile Portland and Responsive Field Day. He is the author of Progressive Web Apps from A Book Apart. Follow him at @grigs.

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