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Apple Removes Innovative App Alerting Users to U.S. Drone Attacks Just Hours After Accepting It

The Metadata+ App alerts users to U.S. drone attacks overseas. Image courtesy of the Apple App Store.

Rebounding from 12 rejections and a hiatus after being axed completely, a controversial app tracking U.S. drone strikes overseas had finally been accepted by Apple — only to be taken down a few hours later.

Data artist and tech developer Josh Begley said his Metadata+ app, which sends out push notifications each time a U.S. drone attack is covered in the news, has been denied by the tech giant on 12 separate occasions. Apple called Begley’s app “excessively objectionable and/or crude content,” although it didn’t feature graphic images or footage of any kind; it simply aggregated stories about America’s covert drone war.

“At its core was a question: Do we want to be as connected to our foreign policy as we are to our smartphones?” Begley wrote in a piece for investigative news site The Intercept. “My hypothesis was ‘no.’ Americans do not care about the drone war because it is largely hidden from view.”

Hours after being accepted by the tech company Monday, March 28, Begley tweeted a notification showing that his app had been removed from the Apple App Store.

The snub is Apple’s latest move in a longtime cat-and-mouse game with Begley, making this the second time the company has accepted his app for download only to delete it a short time later.

Over the years, Begley said he resubmitted the app time and time again, even changing its original name from Drones+ to Metadata+ in hopes that Apple would have a change of heart. Five rejections later (in addition to the previous three), his big break came in 2014 when the billion-dollar tech business finally accepted his app. Metadata+, which is a play on the featured metadata from English–language news reports and the basis on which drone strikes are carried out, remained in the App Store for about a year, racking up more than 50,000 downloads.

That was the end of Begley’s good news, however, as Apple moved to delete the app entirely the following year. Again, the company cited the app’s “excessively objectionable and crude content.” It took the app developer four more attempts to win Apple over, making his Metadata+ app available for download in the App Store once again.

“As an artist who works with data, I think the story of this app is about more than a petty conflict with Apple,” Begley wrote. “It is about what can be seen — or obscured — about the geography of our covert wars.”

He went on to cite the efforts of journalists, movie makers, academics and attorneys whose critical and, oftentimes, dangerous work has uncovered ghastly details of the deadly drone strikes and their aftermath. He pointed out that while Americans back home may hear of the attacks, they receive little knowledge of the innocent victims killed. 

“Because the particulars of the drone wars are scant, we only have ‘metadata’ about most of these strikes — perhaps a date, the name of a province, maybe a body count,” Begley wrote. “Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn’t much narrative to speak of.”

Amid President Donald Trump’s efforts to further lift Obama-era restrictions on air strikes, Begley said he was glad Apple had finally decided to unblock his innovative news app. Yet, his triumph ultimately ended in disappointment.

“If anything about the app is ‘excessively objectionable or crude,’ perhaps it’s the airstrikes themselves,” he said.

Begley nor Apple have responded to requests for comment.

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