What’s in your iPhone? (On the use of conflict minerals)

ogOn September 13th 2011 a certain game app designed for the iPhone was pulled from the App Store after just four days of being made available to consumers.

Why? This game, the Phone Story, included information about Apple that Apple just couldn’t share.

So what exactly is the ‘Phone Story’, you may ask. It’s a satirical game conceived by Yes Lab activists that explains, through 4 mini narratives, how your iPhone came to be.

The first game starts with the origins of metal used within your phone. These metals, Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum and Gold, are called the ‘conflict minerals’ because they are mined by civilians under subjugation by Congolese armed forces. The first mini-game has you stepping into the shoes of guards at the mine making sure that the workforce is allowed no rest by shooting at them. After completion of this first section, the second game takes you to a sweatshop in China where the iPhone is assembled. You now, as the player, must try and stop the sweatshop workers from killing themselves. You catch the falling suicidal workers jumping off the side of the factory with a large net. Then, the iPhone reaches consumers where you sling the iPhone04-Phone-Story into consumer hands. Finally, the fourth mini game ends with a trip to Ghana to follow the e-waste trail where the iPhone is dismantled releasing toxic components into the environment. A satirical game indeed.

Apple, predictably wanted the app removed from the App Store.

Unsurprisingly also, they charged the ban of the app on the app itself rather than the system that it was uncovering. Apple cited the following violations to App Store guidelines as reasons for its removal;

“15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected

16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected”

These points almost make Apple’s decision altruistic. Almost. Until you remember who it was that was perpetuating abuse of underage miners in Congo, or the sweatshop workers in China. Then come the next violated points;

“21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognised charitable organisationsmust be free

21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS”

The last two points do not make sense. The official phone story site states that “..it’s not possible to make donations through Phone Story. Molleindustria (the developer of the Phone Story) simply pledged to redirect the revenues to non-profit organizations, acting independently.” These charities that benefited from the Phone Story, by the way, were ones targeting corporate abuse.

Apple pledged to remove all conflict minerals from their products earlier this year. However, the pulling of the Phone Story is still a scary example of censorship by a multinational cooperation. The Phone Story doesn’t let us off easily either. If you don’t meet the goal of a mini game the narrator will tell you; “Don’t pretend you’re not complicit”. The narrator also bluntly reminds you of the truth behind your romance with your iPhone;

“Did you really need it? Of-course you did. We (Apple) invested a lot of money to instil this desire in you. You were looking for something that could signal your status, your dynamic lifestyle, your unique personality .. just like everyone else”.

However, the cost of our ignorance has had a high cost. According to the International Rescue Committee 5,400,000 people have died from war-related causes in Congo since 1998 – the world’s deadliest documented conflict since the Second World War.

I’m not going to look at my iPhone in the same way again.

To play the Phone Story online check out: http://www.phonestory.org/game.html




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