Monday, March 30, 2015

An App for Censorship: Squeaky Clean

The Famous Mr. Clean Himself
I suppose I should have seen it coming.  There's already an app to help shortcut just about anything a human being can possibly want to do these days, so I should not have been surprised by this: an app to censor the books read by children.  

All concerned parents have to do is run an e-book through something called Squeaky Clean in order to make themselves feel good about their parenting skills a little while longer.  As a consequence, their children just might be sheltered from the harsh realities of living in the 21st century - or of even growing up - for another few days or weeks. 

According to NPR, Jared and Kirsten Maughan came up with the idea for Squeaky Clean when their daughter came home from school one day all upset about some of the words she was being forced to read as part of a school assignment.  This Washington Post article notes that the little girl was in the fourth grade at the time, and that she had borrowed the book from the school library (which means it may have not been required reading, after all).  The article points out what happened next:
...the Maughans quickly learned from a lawyer that republishing books with the offensive words changed or removed would violate authors’ copyrights. So they partnered with a Chicago firm called Page Foundry, which altered its general book-reading app to create Clean Reader — a profanity-filtering program. The Maughans earn a small commission from books purchased through the app.
Not so fast, Maughans.  Before long authors were fighting back and demanding that the Maughns not sell their books on a website suggesting that they be censored before being read.   Says NPR:
Arguably, the leader of that angry response was author Joanne Harris, best known for her novel Chocolat. In several scathing blog posts, Harris decried what she called "censorship, not by the State, but by a religious minority."
Joining Harris in the fight were authors like Margaret Atwood - and the Society of Authors.  As of last week, the Squeaky Clean website no longer sells books, but it continues to offer the free app to those wishing to play censor for a day with their children's reading.    

My favorite paragraph from the NPR link shows just how ludicrous this whole thing is:
Blogger — and romance novel aficionado — Jennifer Porter has drawn up a rundown of the common replacements for words the app deems profanity. Among some of the noteworthies: from "whore" to "hussy," from "badass" to "tough" and, somewhat confusingly, from "vagina" to "bottom."

Jennifer Porter's piece includes a list of common "bad words" and their suggested replacements.  You have to see it to believe it.


  1. I had seen Jennifer Porter's post and thought it was hilarious how some of the changes actually made certain scenes dirtier than they originally were. It reminded me of the censored version of a certain Japanese anime. In the original version, a guy who was tied to a cross was being herded to his execution. In the censored version, the cross was changed to look like a pole, which also involved editing out his arms. This had the unfortunate effect of making it look like the poor guy's arms had been chopped off prior to his execution.

    1. That was my reaction, too. Plus, putting all those little circles in place of bleeped words (where the user opts to remove but not replace the word with something considered less offensive) is like a roadmap in the imagination of every kid out there. That should be more than enough to point out the existence and use of words they may have glossed right over if reading the they have a little research to do. It's like a puzzle that just begs to be solved.