Archives For Opinion

Almost seven years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Transparent Society, David Brin’s insightful text on the delicate balance between privacy and security. The book, published in 1998, foretold the day whe be in a surveillance society. While the specifics of technology were not known at the time he wrote the book, he foretold a day when cameras were everywhere and your daily movements could be tracked. As the quick apprehension of the Boston Marathon bombers has shown, technology, specifically cameras, are now playing a key role in criminal investigations and tracking the movements of specific individuals. We are in the Transparent Society.

So now we all congratulate the law enforcement involved and agree that all this surveillance is a good thing, right?  While I certainly applaud the quick apprehension of the suspects (and mourn the loss of life), I think we also need to consider the society we are becoming. Is it really worth giving up some of our freedom, our privacy, to be more secure?

From security cameras to mobile phone cameras to surveillance drones, we are being watched everywhere we go. Add to this the facial recognition technologies, and we can now be “watched” via software. Just the way we use drones right now has raised many ethical questions.

For many, the standard response to this is, “I have nothing to hide, so it doesn’t really affect me.” This is understandable, but it is short-sighted. The ability for a government to project power so easily, both with surveillance cameras and drones as well as with armed drones, should make us all pause and reflect. Shouldn’t it?

Taking it further, as technology progresses, we will begin seeing the private use of drones. Drones will become smaller and less expensive (as all technology does) – soon we all may have our own drones for our own uses: checking on the kids while they are at camp, watching the house on vacation, remotely attending a LIttle League game, or maybe tracking the movements of people we do not like. Do you see the possible problems here?

So what can be done to address these issues? Let’s start by having some conversations about it. This needs to be front and center for policymakers. No matter what we do, technology will march on – let’s just be sure that we are prepared for it when it gets here.

What are your thoughts? Share with me in the comments.




Does Apple Hate Christians?

December 6, 2010 — 3 Comments

Many of you may be aware of the recent story regarding the Apple App Store and the Manhattan Declaration. If you are not aware of the details, the basic summary is that Apple, after first approving it, banned an “app” from its “app store” that promoted a document called the Manhattan Declaration. This document, among other things, supports a traditional view of marriage and the sanctity of life. The goal of the app was to get its users to support the declaration by signing it online. To date, over 480,000 people have signed the document.  The app was pulled after a petition generated by was sent to Apple, which now has over 7700 signatures.

It wasn’t that long ago that many Christians were applauding Steve Jobs and Apple for their stance against pornography.  We liked it when they played moral judge. So what happened? Well, it turns out that Apple’s policies for the App Store not only prohibit pornography, but also prohibit anything that Apple considers “defamatory, offensive, or mean-spirited”. A former student of mine, who currently works at Apple, provided me with some insight:

I think enough people raised a stink about the specific reference to LGBT people as sexually immoral that they played it up as being defamatory and too targeted against one cultural group (this is the key — see below: 19.1). I think that the moderators try to weed out controversy so as to mellow out the store, but probably only analyze apps where enough complaints are received. The text in question was most likely a hard-coded part of the app itself rather than dynamic content. I think this is a one-off situation on a controversial topic within the app store, and am entirely confident that the “what if” scenarios on [Phil Vischer’s] blog would never happen. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

This student went on to point out some of the specific policies that could apply to this app:

19.1: “Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected.”
19.2: “Apps may contain or quote religious text provided the quotes or translations are accurate and not misleading. Commentary should be educational or informative rather than inflammatory.”

If you read the Manhattan Declaration, it specifically calls out homosexuality and same-sex marriage as “immoral”. In Apple’s interpretation, this specifically violate guideline 19.1, in that it makes a reference to a cultural group that is offensive.  Apple went public with their opposition to Prop. 8 in California and has a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, so this reaction is not surprising at all.

The real question is: now what? Boycott Apple? Ignore it because we like their products?  Here are some thoughts I am considering:

  1. Apple has every right to determine what is sold in their store. This is not censorship; they are a private company. It is also our right to choose not to buy their products or use their services.
  2. The App Store is one of the primary ways that the Bible itself is being distributed. As my former student commented to me,  “Keep in mind that one of the most popular apps is the free (YouVersion) Bible, which allows you to download ‘contribs’ like commentaries which clearly offend some people yet are very informative and even academic.”
  3. Any Christian organization looking to develop an “app” for the iOS market should be aware of the policies that Apple has in place. Apple clearly does not want apps that are controversial in their store.
  4. Apple’s banning of this app has created quite a bit of publicity for the Manhattan Declaration. How many of you had heard of it before you read this post?

So, to answer the original question: no, I don’t think Apple hates Christians.  They are doing what they think is right, but we know where that leads. For me, I am going to take a wait-and-see attitude on this. Apple has earned quite a bit of goodwill with me and I want to see how this plays out. I will definitely be watching them more closely as new apps (and app stores) roll out.

What is your reaction to this story? Leave a comment to give me your thoughts. You can keep up with the latest developments on the Manhattan Declaration’s blog.

Whenever someone comes up to me requesting help for their church or ministry’s Internet effort, I usually get asked a question such as: “How can we make our website better?”  In my opinion, this is the wrong question to ask.  We are now living in a “post-website” world. I don’t know when this happened, but over the past year or so, there has been a shift away from the organization website being the centerpiece of the online world. We need to go where the people are; they are not going to come to us. The advent of social media, including the massive popularity and mainstreaming of Facebook, has changed the game. The question should now be: “What should our online strategy be?”

This is not to say that you don’t need a web site. A web site is your stake in the ground, it is how people will find information about you if they are looking for it. But it is not going to be your primary means of interaction. Sure, you can build your own social network or your own photo-sharing site, but what is going to draw people to it? They are already on Facebook! They are already on Twitter, YouTube, Buzz, MySpace, LinkedIn, and many others! Do your research and find out where the people whom you want to reach are going and then go there yourself! Your strategy should include an intentional focus on specific social media sites based on your research.

So what does this look like? For many, it means Facebook, absolutely. For others, it means getting on board with mobile technologies. Looking forward (as you must do) it should include location-based technologies such as FourSquare or Yelp! And be sure you are getting on board with the augmented reality applications starting to appear! It can be overwhelming, but by making intentional choices, you can move forward in a strategic way that will bring success. If your ministry is struggling with strategic decisions regarding online ministry, consider working with someone like me who is keeping on top of these technologies and can provide strategic planning and advice.

So what do you think? Is the web site as the priority Internet presence a thing of the past? Can an organization get away with a minimal website if they focus on social media sites instead?