Clean Reader, the ereader app that “prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen,” looks almost old news now, since it’s already been hit by such a shitstorm of the profanity it professes to screen out that it’s likely to find the going very difficult from here on. For one thing, Smashwords has come out publicly against the app, which comes only second to a boycott by Kindle in terms of stopping an ebook-linked product in its tracks. Smashwords’ Mark Coker said:
Books are works of art, and the art is manifested by the author’s word choice. You can’t block, change or censor words without changing the book. I also think such an app is counter to the best interests of book culture. Books should be judged, celebrated and debated in their naked glory as their creators intended. The sanitization of books IMHO leads to greater ignorance and intolerance in the world. Books don’t need santization when proper categorization and honest book descriptions will do the trick.
Chuck Wendig, who has appeared in Teleread before, enlarges on the same point about word choice, stating that: “My consent matters when it comes to the book. If changes are necessary to the book — then I consent to making them. An editor sends me edits, I can say whether those edits fly or not. Just as the publisher can consent to the book they publish. That’s the deal. That’s how this works. And here you may say: But what of the consent of the reader? To which I respond: Your consent as a reader is being able to pick up the book or not.”
And if you want a quick no-brainer guide to how stupid as well as distorting Clean Reader can be, just look at this list of suggested replacements for ostensibly profane words – then imagine a serious Christological tome in which every occurrence of “Jesus Christ” is replaced by “geez,” or a German cuisine cookbook in which every occurrence of “wiener” is replaced by “groin.”
“Our initial release of this app has stirred up WAY more emotion than we ever anticipated,” stated the app’s creators, in an email to Joanne Harris, one of the legions of writers to object vociferously to its entire reason for being. ” We are certainly not interested in engaging in a battle with authors.” Well, they may not be, but seems like they got one.
Joanne Harris states clearly what I agree is one of the most telling objections to Clean Reader: “It’s clear from the list of words you consider ‘profane’ that this app is designed to impose a Christian agenda on books. This is insulting to non-Christians.” You do wonder whether Clean Reader would be anything like as effective at picking up racist, anti-Semitic, or other offensive language that isn’t specifically profane in the narrow Christian definition. This app is not just providing a screening service on behalf of parents, like any number of government-sponsored or other child protection filters – it is actively imposing a specifically sectarian agenda on works of art.
I’m not sure if that kind of implicit bias might make enough of a case for Clean Reader to be removed from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, but in any case, it seems to have triggered an outcry far out of proportion to its actual user base. The Google Play Store puts it down in the 500-1,000 installs range – hardly compelling usage figures.
And, as Joanne Harris appends, citing an anonymous poster, “How is the Clear Reader thing NOT a copyright violation if they’re changing the text in your work without permission? Excellent question, to which I have not, as yet, received a convincing answer…”
So Clean Reader may be about to die a death of a thousand f*cks: f*ck-yous and f*ck-off indifference. It can’t be soon enough.
Editor’s Note: Nate at Ink, Bits & Pixels has noted that the bookstore underlying Clean Reader has been pulled, effectively killing the app.