Google Defends Offensive Anti-Gay Phone App

Jim Burroway

February 19th, 2009

With Google entering the mobile phone marketplace with its new G1, powered by Google’s Android Software, they also have opened an online apps store called the Android Marketplace. similar to Apples’s iTunes app store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the Android Store is loaded with tons of utilities, games, and other applications, many of them free. There is also a way in which users can flag an app as being offensive.

Jason Dabrowski found an app, Bendroid’s “Straight?” in the Android Marketplace with this description:

Hey guys, do you want to test your friends and see if they are straight or not? Just ask them to put their finger on a screen and our application will tell the truth. You can even do it yourself…just try it!!! NOTICE: don’t be serious – it’s just for FUN!!!”

Here’s how it works. You start the app and ask someone to place their finger on the phone. The app ostensibly scans their fingerprint and comes up with one of two possible results. One result could be this:

Or the other result could be this:

Calling someone gay as ridicule — a “sorry sweetie” ridicule at that — is not only offensive, it perpetuates the view that being gay is a negative thing. If you draw the affirming, high-fiving “you are the man” response, you’ve won the game. But with “sorry sweetie,” the app offers condolences for losing the game — losing, in this case, means being gay. It’s just another variation on the “that’s so gay” slur.

Well, Jason flagged the app as offensive, and got this response back from Google.

– We are very interested in seeing the discussions and issues regarding Android Market either taking place here or in our specific Android Market forum (which I am linking below).
– Though this is an unmoderated forum, we are monitoring and around. Our goal is to build a community where users can get and give answers to others interested in our products. You will see us Googlers chiming in on threads where we can be of more help.
– We definitely monitor the apps flagged on Android Market and take down apps that promote hate speech.

Regarding this specific case, though the app may be offensive to some, it is not in violation. Stereotypes in and of themselves do not constitute hate against a group.

Best,
Alden

This app has nothing to do with stereotypes and everything to do with perpetuating a slur, and possibly leading to taunting and bullying. Let’s see how well this app goes over in high school gymnasiums around the country. A lot of bullying has been defended as “just a little fun” before. Is that really Google’s position?

Update: The app’s developer has removed the app from the Android Marketplace and apologized.

Pomo

February 19th, 2009

Ha! I think its kinda funny. But then I’m also not a democrat so I guess my opinion doesn’t really count…

Jason D

February 19th, 2009

I’ve fixed the links in my blog. Thanks for the help!

mattymatt

February 19th, 2009

I can’t imagine they’d be so accommodating if it said, “sorry, cheapskate — you’re a Jew!”

Timothy Kincaid

February 19th, 2009

Pomo,

I’m not a Democrat either and I think it is both stupid and homophobic.

It did have the potential to be funny.

Had the straight response been something like “Total Breeder. Grab a beer and watch the game” and the gay response been “Fly your rainbow freak flag, Supermodel” it might have made me chuckle. It could have played on stereotypes in both directions.

But to call one “THE MAN!” and the other “sweety” is offensive. And even worse, not at all clever.

And greatest crime of all, they misspelled Sweetie

Andrew

February 19th, 2009

I think it’s funny. I would get it for my phone and do it to all my friends.

AJD

February 19th, 2009

Another thing this does is perpetuate the notion that homosexuality is unmasculine.

Pender

February 19th, 2009

mattymatt: I think that’s a very good point. I hope someone with the means and inclination makes such an analogous app for various other minorities to test Google’s consistency on this issue.

“Sorry, cheapskate — you’re a jew!”
“Sorry, ghetto boy — you’re black!”

etc.

The one legitimate reason why one might treat this gay app different from those other racist apps is that of all of these minorities, only gays are often in the closet. Most jewish and black people know and admit that they are jewish or black.

Jason D

February 19th, 2009

Pender, to be accurate the responses should be:

for the “Gentile?” App
+ God Loves You!
– Sorry, cheapskate you’re a …[silver & blue nose icon]

For the “White?” App
+ You’re the man
– Sorry, boy, you’re… [white teeth and white eyes floating on the field of black]

Bendroid toed the line by never actually using the word “gay” or it’s equivalent, the whole thing was done with innuendo and symbolism. This was most likely a clever attempt to avoid blame or responsibility.

TJ McFisty

February 19th, 2009

I bet Bendroid has lots of gay friends that he does stuff with so no way, he ain’t anti-gay. Just his programming.

I agree with Tim on this. It’s offensive cuz it suffers from being borderline funny…like, punch it up a bit with more jabs to both sides, and well, chuckle-rama. Maybe.

Ephilei

February 19th, 2009

I don’t like the app, but I’m on Google’s side. Google (unlike Apple) has taken the stand that it will allow freedom of speech on its store and I like that. Freedom of speech means that people will say things we don’t like, but the benefits are greater.

Pender

February 19th, 2009

Ephilei, “freedom of speech” means freedom from government intervention. Private intervention is a different story. It’s no more obvious to me that it’s a good thing for Google to tolerate bigoted speech in the Android Marketplace than it would be for someone to tolerate it at a party he is hosting.

Joel

February 19th, 2009

Im with Epiphelei.

But i also empathize with Timothy’s concern.

Timothy said, “This app has nothing to do with stereotypes and everything to do with perpetuating a slur, and possibly leading to taunting and bullying. Let’s see how well this app goes over in high school gymnasiums around the country. A lot of bullying has been defended as “just a little fun” before. Is that really Google’s position?”

Eliminating these slogans due to some people being offended is sad and pathetic. It, imo… intrudes on freedom of speech and theirs where i usually and constantly draw the line.

Due to the current state of how many gays are treated, i dont think it is in a pro-gay or neutral-gay-issues company to perpetuate such demeaning slogans. Slogans that on a pro-gay or neutrally gay society are non-condescending and probably even humorous. But, in reality… it probably wont be used under that tone and it would be wise, not just for the company, but for people who believe that gays DO share at least the same dignity as heterosexuals, to abstain from fomenting such bigoted attitude.

But, when all is said and done… free speech is countered by free speech, and i have enough faith in people to believe, like epi, that the benefits of not regulating/banning this slogan are greater.

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.” ~Henry Steele Commager

PSUdain

February 19th, 2009

Google made a commitment to trying to preserve the Open Source spirit of free-ness (“Free as in freedom, not as in free beer,” in case you’re uninitiated into the movement.). That commitment includes one to preserving free speech as much as they can.

However they are, as you point out, not the government so they are bound by nothing more than their word and willingness. I also agree that they would likely not tolerate similar slurs based on race or religion, and therefore, they should not tolerate those based on sexual orientation.

However (number two!), I don’t think this is a primary concern for our community. I mean, it’s a dumb little phone app. Sure we should speak up when we see stuff like this, but we have bigger fish to fry than some two-bit coder’s thirty-two-bit code. (Programming joke!! And yes, I was dorky enough to look it up and make sure that the CPU is a 32-bit machine.)

Trooperz

February 20th, 2009

When I read the Boxturtle’s response, I wondered if we were bordering on oversensitivity. Was it really that bad?

But then MattyMatt added his comment, and I was surprised at how effective it was in changing my opinion.

Why is it okay to validate the ’emmasculated gay’ stereotype? Good job Timothy in pointing out a better alternative: the concept of the app isn’t bad– rather it’s pretty funny– but it shouldn’t play into others’ expectations of gays.

Jason D

February 20th, 2009

The developer has removed the application from the marketplace and has made an apology here

The app is still available at the developer’s website, Bendroid.com. Personally, I have no problem with it being isolated to their own website. My issue was the presence on the Google-Sponsored Marketplace.

Apparently there was quite an online debate on the issue. The google help forum started getting responses not long after BTB posted, and the TMobile Forums have like 27 responses, most of them defending the app, calling people “self-loathing” for being offended (an odd charge), and generally missing the point.

Arya F. Jenkins

February 20th, 2009

This is just the kind of thing that should be challenged. Kids, most especially, do not need to have this kind of game added to what they already experience in terms of racist and homophobic stress in school. What’s the point, Google?

Karol

February 20th, 2009

We can avoid (ie: boycott) Google by using http://www.Goodsearch.com. It is as good a search engine, but the best part is that it donates money to the charity or cause that you select. I found out about this in Lesbian Connection. There are many, many agencies, charities, causes, etc that you can choose from. If yours is not there, I would bet you can propose it to the site. Everytime you use the site, Goodsearch donates 1 cent to your designated cause. All those pennies add up to many dollars. At least check it out, it is worth it.

b

February 20th, 2009

Jason D,

In response to the defenders of the app calling those offended by it “self-loathing”, as you mentioned, I think that the defenders saying that isn’t a strange thing for them to say. This isn’t to say it’s not strange in that those who are offended by it are self-loathing, that’s NOT my point AT ALL. By calling those offended by the app “self-loathing”, I can tell that those individuals think that it’s all gay men of varying stereotypes voicing displeasure at the app’s homophobic, “that’s so gay” undertones. Thus those particular defenders of the app are calling anyone offended by it “self-loathing” because they think that “well if you were truly happy being gay, this wouldn’t upset you unless you secretly felt ashamed of yourself for acting all flamboyantly”. They are just showing their biased notions of what it means to be gay (and male) by calling offended parties “self-loathing”. Saying such things just shows they feel that if you’re a man, then being gay is one VERY undesirable thing to be.

Timothy Kincaid

February 20th, 2009

I’m glad the author of the ap did the right thing and pulled it back.

And those angry with Google may wish to recall that Google took the extremely rare company position of officially opposing Proposition 8. The co-founders also gave heavily to the No on 8 Campaign. Sergey Brin gave $100,000 and Larry Page gave $40,000. Google used it’s name in advertising opposing the proposition.

Alex H

February 20th, 2009

I thought it was funny, but I can see how this is offensive and one-sided. Perhaps the maker of the app should change the “Sorry” to “Congratulations…” or “Yay!” and so it wouldn’t have the negative connotation that it has now.

Oh, I just read the update.

John Bisceglia

February 20th, 2009

Was this “thing” ran by, I don’t know, 4-5 actual Q’s?

It’s kind of like the folks at the New York Post who did not run that cartoon by a few people for feedback. Anyone with eyes and common sense would have raised a concern.

Joe Kort

February 21st, 2009

I am usually very bothered by anything homophobia but this one did not bother me. I used to have an app on my Treo phone for “Gaydar” and it was a button you pressed and directed it at someone to show if they were gay or not. I don’t recall negative publicity around that.

apple repair store n

March 19th, 2011

You’re signing the wrong petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/truth-wins-out-stop-with-the-reverse-suppression-from-gays-4

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