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Apple TV Gets Hacking Video App, But Censors Some Content

Apple TV’s latest app will teach you how to hack – as long as you don’t want to know how to hack iPhones or pacemakers, that is.

The company officially gave developers affiliated with Germany’s Chaos Computer Club (CCC) the go-ahead to publish their CCC TV app on Apple TV this week, according to a report from German IT news website heise.de. However, Apple insisted that CCC didn’t publish a number of videos that touch on iOS hacking and other delicate subjects.

CCC is one of Europe’s oldest and most influential hacker and technology enthusiast associations, and has been hosting an annual hacking and security conference dubbed the “Chaos Communication Congress” for more than three decades. The CCC TV app is meant to publish videos from talks held at the gathering.

Apple initially rejected the app last October, telling its developers that some of its content was violating the company’s program licensing agreements. Apple in particular took issue with eight videos available through the app, including one about “jailbreaking,” which is a term commonly used for disabling security on and taking control of Apple’s iOS devices, and one about Bluetooth hacking. The videos also included talks with less Apple-specific subjects, including one about industrial espionage and one about hacking medical devices.

The app developers responded to this by making those particular videos not playable within the app, and informing users where the videos can be accessed on the web instead. Apple initially declined this version as well, but relented after conversations with the app’s developers — which they see as a mixed blessing. Smaller publishers may cave in and simply remove content altogether, one of the app’s publishers argued in a  blog post, which also noted that the same videos that the CCC had to block are freely available via YouTube’s Apple TV app.

The whole episode may seem like a fringe case — how many people really want to watch talks about pacemaker hacking — but it points towards a bigger issue: As video publishers move from their own websites to apps hosted on devices like Apple TV, Roku or smart TVs, they’re increasingly subject to the rules and restrictions of those platforms.

Those rules, however, aren’t written in stone, and their interpretation and enforcement often depends on the size and economic importance of an app publisher. Market leaders like YouTube and Netflix may be able to get away with things that smaller publishers won’t, forcing them to self-censor their content in order to reach consumers’ eyeballs in the living room.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

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