iTunes Error Leads to Uncontrolled Censorship
Article by George Norman
On 27 Oct 2008
Visitors to the iTunes UK Music Store have noticed that Apple's decision to censor potentially offensive words did not go all that smoothly. As a result, literally thousands of song titles, band names and album names have been erroneously censored (which is to say that letters in these offensive names were replaced with *).

Blanking out some words is a regular feature with iTunes – after all, you wouldn't want someone's delicate senses to be offended by all sorts of profanities that can make their way into a song's title. There are also “explicit” and “caution” labels attached to songs with an explicitly adult content.


So what's the problem? Thanks to a “database glitch”, as an Apple UK spokesperson named it, legitimate artist names and song titles were censored. Johnny Cash for example became J****y Cash while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became “Smells Like T**n Spirit. Oddly enough the band name Pussycat Dolls was not censored, even though it contains the word “pussy” - which in some contexts may be offensive. Is in Apple's view “Johnny” more offensive than “pussy”?

Here is another thing I do not get. The word “murder” is visible compared to the word “killer” which is censored. The same goes for “gay”, which is also visible compared to “lesbian” which has been covered with *. How are these words different? This is not only censorship, it is word discrimination.

Apple says that the problem will be solved as fast as possible. Although the censorship was not on purpose, no one with the company can provide an adequate explanation why their filtering software all of a sudden started to consider “Johnny” or “teen” as offensive words. The software will undergo a thorough going over so that in the future it will do a proper job – which is to say that the “f” word will continue do be blanked out.

Tags: Apple, iTunes
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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