Photo: Pet lovers are outraged at an approved Android app that depicts and glorifies dog-fighting. (Source: Android Market)
Should Google allow apps that promote illegal behavior and violent animal abuse?
In recent weeks Google Inc. (GOOG) has defended itself against investor claims that it’s veering off the path of fiscal responsibility and government suspicions that it may be behaving in anticompetitive manner in online markets. But this week the company faced an even more contentious challenge — the morality of its app store policy.
I. Google’s Android OS — Glorifying Animal Abuse?
Google has reapproved “KG Dogfighting”, a $2.99 app that offers violent depictions of animals being pitted against each other in a fight to the death. The app, developed by Kage Games LLC, was formerly titled “Dog Wars”, but was pulled and retitled due to a copyright complaint.
Kage Games describes the app writing:
Raise your dog to beat the best!
AN APP THAT WILL NEVER APPEAR IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!
The Controversial Dogfighting Android “DogWars – Beta” app by Kage Games LLC has been renamed and uploaded here to the market as a paid app!
Feed, water, train and FIGHT your virtual dog against other players… action games, chatroom, many characters and dogs to choose from, virtual store, etc
Progressive nonprofit Change.org has launched a non-profit campaign against the game, which it says glorifies animal abuse and criminal activity. Its petition to drop the game currently has 29,332 signatures.
Robert Pregulman, the creator of the petition, complains, “We cannot let Google off the hook for promoting a game that glorifies the abuse and torture of dogs.”
Stephanie Feldstein, Animals Editor at Change.org, adds, “Change.org provides a platform that empowers people to speak out against animal cruelty, whether it’s seeking justice for abuse that’s already occurred or preventing abuse by ending the glorification of the dogfighting culture. It’s incredible to see thousands of animal lovers using Change.org to send a strong message to Google that they don’t want the Android Market to condone a dogfighting app.”
The petition is backed by the American Humane Society which celebrates, “Be Kind to Animals Week” this week. Philadelphia Eagles’ star quarterback Michael Vick, himself a former dog-fighter who went to prison for funding a dog-fighting ring, condemned the game.
Mr. Vick who now speaks on behalf of the AHS to try to steer young people away from dog-fighting states:
I’ve come to learn the hard way that dogfighting is a dead-end street. Now, I am on the right side of this issue, and I think it’s important to send the smart message to kids, and not glorify this form of animal cruelty, even in an Android app.
In the U.S., dog-fighting and cruelty to pets is illegal under numerous state, federal, and municipal statutes.
Other opponents of the game include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society, local rescue groups, and law enforcement officials.
II. Android’s Unique Position in the Market
Why are people so concerned about the app and Google’s stance on it? Well Android currently occupies a unique and pivotal position in the market.
Today, Google’s Android operating system is by far the biggest and fastest selling smartphone OS. It’s found on dozens of popular smartphone models sold around the globe. Analysts expect that it could reach a market share of 50 percent within the next several years.
Much like it overtook competitor Apple, Inc. (AAPL) in sales, Google is moving aggressively to overtake Apple in apps. At last count Google has around 200,000 apps in its Android Market, compared to Apple’s approximately 350,000 apps in its App Store.
Video game censorship is a touchy topic. Society today has embraced titles like Grand Theft Auto, which promote or glorify drug dealing, money laundering, murder, prostitution, vehicular larceny, and assault.
Google’s rival Apple practices a tighter policy of banning potentially controversial apps — though a few apps slip through the reviews process, such as the infamous “Baby Shaker” app.
By contrast, if the app isn’t malware Google pretty much gives developers full license to explore whatever kind of controversial themes they want — from crime to adult entertainment.
Technically, apps that glorify or depict criminal activities — without showing real world incidents — do not appear to be illegal. But there’s a growing societal push to ban apps glorifying such universally condemned activities as animal cruelty and child pornography.
Of course what is unacceptable in some cases varies greatly on your point of view. For example, People for the Ethical Treament of Animals (PETA) recently condemned Nintendo’s Cooking Mama for depicting cooking animal meat and elementary school parents recently complained that an ”edutainment” math title was “too violent”.
Google has not yet commented on its decision to allow the controversial app and Kage Games LLC has yet to publicly comment as well.
But the debate is clearly emerging as a fascinating dialogue on censorship, crime, and modern technology.