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Google puts Android porn out to pasture

30 Nov

New Scientist, a well-respected science and technology magazine based in London, has given Sex, Bombs and Burgers a pretty good review in its Culture Lab section. Says features editor Richard Fisher: “These chapters are hugely entertaining. Nowak – an experienced journalist – confidently treads where other historians of technology might avoid.”

Like all good reviews, though, Fisher points out what he saw as a flaw – that my thesis sometimes falters when talking about pornographers as driving forces behind innovation. Truth be told, that’s not the first time I’ve heard this pointed out, both in regards to my book specifically and to the idea in general, so I don’t necessarily take it as offence. I do think that perhaps the role – and importance – of early adopters is not well known or entirely understood, and perhaps it’s my fault for not explaining it well enough in the book.

There’s little doubt that the military and food industries are big innovators; they’re absolutely huge and fiercely competitive industries that spend billions on research and development every year. They literally have scientists in white coats working in labs coming up with the newest bombs and burgers.

The pornography industry, while big, is nowhere near the same size and there certainly aren’t many scientists working on breakthroughs specifically for sexual purposes – “that we know of,” according to George Stroumboulopoulos. But, as I argue in the book, I believe the industry is just as important because it is often the early adopter that gets a technology off the ground so that it can be developed to the point where it’s ready for a mainstream audience.

Historically, the VCR is a great example. It’s well known that Hollywood tried to sue VCRs out of existence in the early 1980s because they thought the devices would facilitate piracy of movies (sound familiar?). While mainstream studios were gingerly releasing movie tapes in the technology’s early days, porn companies were cranking them out. And they were charging an arm and a leg for them, which aficionados were willing to pay. As a result, top ten rental and purchase lists in the early 80s were full of porn titles such as Debbie Does Dallas and Behind the Green Door.

If there were no brisk-selling, expensive porno tapes to feed the VCRs, their makers would likely have given up on them in light of Hollywood’s reticence. New technologies are invented every day but the majority of them never continue because nobody buys into them. So while porn companies didn’t invent the VCR, their willingness to jump onto the new, unproven devices saved the technology. The manufacturers made enough to keep the VCR afloat until the mainstream studios could be convinced to come along for the ride. In the case of the VCR, I think porn keeping it alive was just as important as its actual invention.

We’ve seen this time and again, with the latest example happening – ironically – yesterday.

Word has come down that Google is cracking down on porn apps in its Android smartphone marketplace. According to Google, “Apps that include suggestive or sexual references should be rated ‘Teen’ or above. Apps that focus on such content should be rated ‘Mature.’ Pornography is not allowed in Android Market.”

The timing on this announcement should come as no surprise. Google released Android two years ago and had essentially allowed its app store to become something of a Wild West. Even the prudish Steve Jobs mocked the company when he said earlier this year: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”

Lo and behold – two years later and Android has become the number one smartphone operating system, at least in the U.S., and guess what? See you later, porn. Google no longer needs it, so it’s tossed to the wayside. It’s not surprising to me; I expected this would happen a year ago.

That’s not to say that porn apps are responsible for Android’s success; it’s a nice operating system that’s a good alternative to the iPhone. However, one big part of Android’s success – at least in Google’s marketing of it – has been its supposed “openness.” Google has correspondingly mocked Apple for being so closed with its operating system and app store.

Any way you slice it, porn has played a role – whether directly or indirectly – in Android’s rise. And as usual, once its job is done, it’s officially put out to pasture. As they say: it’s not who you come to the dance with, it’s who you go home with. Alas, when it comes to technology, we often tend to only remember that second part.

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4 Comments

Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Google, sex

 

4 responses to “Google puts Android porn out to pasture

  1. Dallan

    November 30, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I’m not sure this is as much of a sea change in Google’s attitudes as you’re suggesting, if only because (unlike with iOS), the Android Market was at best meant to be a primary app distribution channel, not the sole such channel – even the post you’re pointing to as a prediction is a post highlighting just such an alternate channel, and it’s one that Android’s OS updates continue to allow to function.

    Google is introducing content ratings, that’s an unambiguously new thing here, but I don’t know if genuine pornographic apps such as the sort that showed up on MiKandi have ever really been allowed on the Market – at the most I ever saw there were a bunch of cheesecake apps that were more Maxim than Penthouse, which I assume will end up rated Mature.

     
    • Peter Nowak

      November 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      Those are good points, although I think the main thing I wanted to stress is how Google was happy to allow the Wild West (both porn and otherwise) to continue while the fate of Android was still uncertain. Now that it’s an unqualified success, it’s time to get parental on the whole situation. I’m sure further moves against porn are in the offing.

      This situation is pretty much a microcosm of the internet in general – authorities were content to let it develop on its own for quite some time, and they’re only now starting to get involved with regulating it. That’s actually one of the major reasons porn companies do jump on new technologies quickly: they’re usually unregulated… for a time, at least. Next up: robots.

       
  2. Team MiKandi

    November 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Peter, this is really interesting stuff. At MiKandi, we definitely agree with you about the fact that many interesting innovations have come out of the porn industry. As the only app store for adults (actually Steve was talking about us, not Google’s Android market), we’re very appreciative of the open environment that is available on the Android operating system, we believe it’s allowing us to innovate on the app store front. Google’s approach to their operating system continues to remain very open, which is where we come in – installing our app store on an Android handset is generally very easy and we welcome anyone who is over 18 to do so.

    What’s becoming more “closed” is Google’s Android Market. However, we don’t think they’re changing the rules a lot, they’re just clarifying them better and giving consumers and developers some more definitions, which we believe to be fantastic: clear expectations lead to more informed decision-making. We’ve written some more about the content ratings over at our blog, in case you’re curious: http://www.blog.mikandi.com/2010/11/understanding-the-android-market-content-ratings/

    Thanks for daring to write about an area that is often avoided by the mainstream media! We always like reading your thoughts on the subject (even if they predict our demise :)).

    Thanks,
    Team MiKandi
    http://www.mikandi.com

    (trying to re-post the comment, sorry if this is duplicated)

     
 
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