Apple’s app store is a digital nanny state. Do we like it that way?

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The internet in the United States leans toward permissiveness within the bounds of the law. But with your iPhone apps, Apple makes the rules.

In your web browser, you can surf to adult site OnlyFans. On your iPhone, Apple doesn’t allow you to download “overtly sexual” apps.

On the web, you might wind up on a scam site impersonating Walmart. Apple tries to weed out scam apps.

You can buy whatever a company sells on its website, usually with your choice of payment method. For digital purchases in iPhone apps, Apple decides what you can buy and you have to pay Apple’s way.

It’s been this way for most of the iPhone’s history. But now, Apple is being forced to loosen some of its app restrictions — while it’s also trying to exert some control over what you do on the more permissive internet outside apps.

That means it’s time to confront essential questions about your phone:

Do you want Apple to try to protect you from everything or not? And is your only choice between chaos or Apple’s nanny state that shields you from the pitfalls of your choices and mistakes?

There are no right answers. We both benefit and lose from Apple’s app control, just as we do from social media sites’ power over what we can say there.

Companies, courts and politicians rarely ask you what you think about all this. So I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of Apple’s control over apps and ask what you want.

Apple’s history of censorship

Americans recoil at the idea of censorship. The success of apps shows that we’re cool with it sometimes.

For 15 years, Apple has decided what apps you could or couldn’t download to your iPhone. The company said it acted as a control freak for your own good.

Famously, Apple grew annoyed early on that there were too many fart apps. Apple essentially banned them. A few years ago, Apple kicked out vaping-related apps. Apps that help with gun purchases aren’t allowed. Some cannabis apps are.

Because Apple’s official app store is the only place you can download iPhone apps, you have a single, relatively trustworthy place to find apps and pay for digital purchases. You and your children are insulated from some of humanity’s impulses.

If you prefer, the less restrictive internet is still there on your iPhone’s Safari browser.

(Apple’s protections and prohibitions aren’t absolute. Scam apps and those that impersonate legitimate apps do pop up. Apple for a long time has allowed an app like X, formerly Twitter, with adult content.)

Apple’s control over apps, though, has led some app makers to complain that Apple has blocked you from useful apps or features like Spotify’s audiobooks to protect Apple’s business interests at your expense.

At the command of Chinese authorities, Apple blocks people in that country from downloading some apps including for news and for circumventing internet censorship.

Apple has previously said it must comply with Chinese laws and that apps must follow Apple’s rules.

Google’s Android app store also screens apps but it has historically been a bit more permissive. Android phone users are definitely exposed to scams, too.

What’s changing with Apple’s app control

Under a new European Union law, Apple for the first time will allow people in the region to download apps from places other than its official app store.

Yes, Europeans could for the first time be able to download pornography apps to their iPhones. And coming soon: A Fortnite app that has been absent for iPhones.

All iPhone users will also soon be able to access some other types of apps that Apple doesn’t currently permit, such as those that let you play a bunch of video games within one app.

Legal crackdowns on Apple’s app restrictions also mean an app like Disney Plus could tell Europeans and Americans about a cheaper price for its streaming subscription for sale on the Disney Plus website.

Apple is doing most of this reluctantly. The company says that if it doesn’t control iPhone apps, people might fall for scam apps and be harmed by bogus information, as we’re exposed to on the relatively less restricted web. Apple is probably right.

Apple still wants to vet apps that you download outside Apple’s store. In some cases, Apple wants a cut of your purchase if you click in an app to buy a subscription from Disney’s website. (It’s not clear that judges or regulators will allow it.)

More choices of what apps you can download and how you buy from apps will likely mean more responsibility to watch our backs from stuff that’s harmful or that we find objectionable.

In other words, iPhone apps could become a little more like the web — for better and for worse.

Apple says this is a bad idea. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

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