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Did Apple force Tumblr to self-censor?

An interestingly titilating titbit over on the BBC this morning which we missed last week. Microblogging website Tumblr has fingered mobile app store policies as well as spammy porn sites for controversial changes in the way it allows users to discover content. Tumblr, which was acquired by Yahoo! earlier this year, has been in the firing line because it has been quietly blocking hashtags like #gay, #lesbian and #bisexual from appearing in search results on its mobile apps as part of a policy to hide porn-related blogs using its platform from searches. Last week, Tumblr updated its search policies so that content it considers ‘NSFW’ (not suitable for work) only appeared in very specific news feeds and not in general searches.

Naturally enough, when people who have created blogs specifically designed to deal with serious (and non-serious) issues around sexuality discovered their sites were caught in the dragnet, there was a not inconsiderable amount of outrage. Freedom of expression being one of the pillars upon which blogging is based.

Tmblr is popular with South African bloggers, photographers and news sites.

According to Tumblr founder David Kapp, his team are addressing the problem through “more intelligent filtering” and hand curates the #lgbt tag to meet guidelines:

Aside from these fixes, there haven’t been any recent changes to Tumblr’s treatment of NSFW content, and our view on the topic hasn’t changed. Empowering your creative expression is the most important thing in the world to us. Making sure people aren’t surprised by content they find offensive is also incredibly important and we are always working to put more control in your hands.

Intriguingly, he also said that the reason for the new NSFW filters is to ensure mobile versions of the Tumblr app pass through the approval process for certain mobile app stores. Having adult content appear in searches got the app “close to being banned”. He didn’t specify which app store almost booted Tumblr out, but it’s widely known that Apple has a very prudish approach to policy while Google Play and the Windows Store are more of a free-for-all. It could be BlackBerry, but somehow I doubt that too.

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