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After Initially Denying, Apple Approves App to Track Drone Strikes

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By Kody Fairfield

Josh Begley, writing for the Intercept, has announced that after years of denials by Apple, his app to track drone strikes has been approved.

Begley starts his story off saying:

Five years ago, I made a simple iPhone app. It would send you a push notification every time a U.S. drone strike was reported in the news.

Apple rejected the app three times, calling it “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

The app creator said he tried many different ideas to get the app approved by the tech giant, including name changes, and that the “objectionable or crude” remarks didn’t make sense as there were no pictures or videos of the acts, Begley called it “simply aggregated news about covert war.”

Begley, in making the app, wanted to bring attention to the fact that Americans cared less about their foreign policy than their smartphones and that Americans could avoid this because the use of drones was “largely hidden from view.”

According to his report, his app had been approved, following 5 denials, in 2014 under the name “Metadata+.” He explains that his app, per Apple’s internal data, had been downloaded by 50,000+ people, but unfortunately, Apple again deemed it to be “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

Finally, Begley asserts, his app has been re-approved by Apple and “Metadata” is back in the app store. Begley went on to explain the importance of this action by Apple:

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

For the past 15 years, journalists on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have worked hard to uncover the contours of U.S. drone attacks — in some cases at their own peril. Filmmakers, academics, and attorneys have done important work documenting their ghastly aftermath. Websites like The Intercept have published whistleblower exposés about how the covert drone program clicks together.

But buried in the details is a difficult truth: no one really knows who most of these missiles are killing.

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. Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn’t much narrative to speak of.

The founder of “Metadata” explained that the name of the app is a sort of double meaning. The app both contains metadata about English-language news reports, and it refers to the basis on which most drone strikes are carried out. Quoting Gen. Michael Hayden who said, “we kill people based on metadata.”

Begley, continues to say that the approval of the app by Apple couldn’t be at a better time. He sites the fact that President Donald Trump, who has already ruled Somalia and Yemen as “areas of active hostilities” and begun to peel back Obama-era constraints on drone attacks,  this app could not be more important for the programs exposure and understanding.

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

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