Apple and pornDid you know that the Web is crawling with porn? Horrible, filthy stuff clutters the wonder that is the Internet, with sites like YouPorn guzzling 950 terabytes of data transfer each day, according to this incredibly interesting yet totally safe-for-work report from ExtremeTech. And hey, if you don’t believe me, just listen to this song or get the creepy trenchcoat-wearing guy in Google Chrome’s incognito mode to share some secrets.

There is one place that isn’t filled to the brim with pornography: the App Store. Apple’s policies for what is and isn’t allowed into its app marketplace have created a nanny state of software, where anything resembling pornography is banned and anything that could even show pornography, like a Web browser, is slapped with a 17+ rating and has to display an “[App name here] contains age-restricted material” warning. You know, for the children.

But how much of a difference does adding an “age-restricted material” warning make to someone who is, say, 16? Clicking or tapping on “OK” no matter what a modal window says and lying about your age are two of the first things you learn when you start using technology. A whole bunch of early teens and even pre-teens can install the app no matter how many warnings Apple puts in front of their eyeballs. The only difference is that Apple gets to say that it’s doing everything it can to create a family-friendly experience — and can point at other operating systems as ignoring those values.

Apple has been pounding the “iOS doesn’t do porn” drum for years. Steve Jobs supplied some of the best quotes on the matter, saying that blocking an app by Mark Fiore was “a mistake” before adding: “However, we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”

Then there’s this quote, which comes from a Q&A session held at the iOS 4.0 developer preview:

“You know, there’s a porn store for Android. You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go – so we’re not going to go there.”

And, to be fair, Apple hasn’t changed its policies. The App Store is still a porn-free zone — for the most part. New apps and services have shown just how blurry the line between “keep porn out of the App Store” and “we’re going to put restrictions on any app that allows user-generated content to flourish” can really be.

Take 500px, for example. The photo-sharing service’s iOS app was removed from the App Store for containing “pornographic images and material,” and Apple “asked” the service to “put safeguards in place to prevent pornographic images and material in their app.” Basically, they wanted 500px users who wanted to view photos in the “Nude” category to have to tap on each image. But 500px had already allowed automatic image-loading as a perk for account holders who changed the preferences via the 500px website – not the app.

500px’s Alex Flint helped maintain Apple’s image as the patron saint of child-friendly app stores and Android’s status as “the one that allows porn” with this Tweet:

Then there’s Vine, the much-talked-about video sharing service from Twitter. Apple pulled the app from its “Editor’s Pick” after the shocking truth that people would use a video service to share explicit acts garnered a bunch of press, and has now put a 17+ rating on the app. It’s surprising that Apple didn’t burn Vine at the stake (pun intended) to cover up for the fact that it featured a service with such rampant pornography.

The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky views this as a policy problem, writing that “the truth is that Vine doesn’t have a problem with porn, at least not one that isn’t shared by any other social media app. Apple has a problem: its App Store’s puritanical, unevenly-enforced policies for adult content. Vine is just today’s example.”

Topolsky provides examples of a number of other apps and services that offer access to porn, including Twitter’s own iPhone app, and others have turned the blame on Safari and the fact that it comes pre-loaded on every iOS device. If Web browsers are so bad that they deserve a warning before they can even be downloaded, the argument goes, why does Safari get a free pass? This is definitely a policy issue, and it is one that has been around for an embarrassingly long time.

But it’s doubtful that Apple will change how it looks at porn any time soon. It has spent a long time cultivating its image as the one place families can turn to without having to worry about their children seeing naughty bits. It doesn’t matter that, with the exception of removing or not approving an app entirely, Apple’s “safeguards” are nothing more than tiny irritants, like the “This is a drug free zone” signs hung up at playgrounds. (Which is, um, not to say we’ve been doing drugs in playgrounds…)

Expecting Apple to change its policies on this subject without some kind of external force is a bit like expecting New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg to drop his fight against sugary drinks. No matter how many people complain about the policy, enough people will stay in New York, or stick with iOS, to justify keeping the ban in place. Then, the policy-makers can point at the opposition and say “We care more about your family than they do.”