Don Tennant

The Baby Shaker episode: Let’s move on

By Don Tennant
April 24, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

As a father who has been blessed with four healthy kids, I don't know what it's like to be the parent of a child who was seriously injured by being shaken as a baby. So I don't pretend to be able to fully comprehend the hurt and anguish those parents feel over the infamous iPhone Baby Shaker app. What I do know is that I share their outrage, disgust, and sadness that the app was even conceived, let alone marketed.

All of that said, we need to step back and consider what has happened in the aftermath of the outrage. Apple has issued the following statement of apology: "This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention."

The developer of the app, Sikalosoft, stated this on its Web site: "Yes, the Baby Shaker iPhone app was a bad idea. You should never shake a baby! Even on an Apple iPhone Baby Shaking application. In case you are unaware Baby Shaker was an Apple iPhone application that was greatly lacking in taste. ...There are currently over 30,000 iPhone applications out there. So there are many other iPhone applications you could be better spending your time and money on."

We need to remember that good people, and good companies, do stupid things. When they do, and they're brought to account for them, they have a choice. They can try to weasel out of the mess by going into denial mode, shifting the blame, spinning the story or refusing to discuss it. Or they can demonstrate some courage by acknowledging the mistake, apologizing for it, and taking corrective action. Both Apple and Sikalosoft have chosen the latter course, so they should be forgiven by everyone - unless, of course, there's anyone out there who has never done anything he regrets.

The condemnation of Apple and Sikalosoft has been spearheaded by the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, which has engaged in aggressive press outreach efforts to bring attention to Baby Shaker. Yesterday, the foundation sent me a copy of an open letter from its founder, Patrick B. Donohue, to the boards of directors of Apple and AT&T. Here's an excerpt:

"We would like a complete accounting as to who was responsible for the vetting and launching of this sick application. We would like Apple and AT&T to develop a significant plan to reverse the damage they have caused. Anything short of this will reinforce the belief this was a purposeful and cynical plan to reach a 1 billionth application download! As Directors of both of these companies you have a fiduciary and corporate responsibility and the authority to act immediately - we expect nothing less from you.

"On behalf of the millions of families across this country who are dealing with a child who suffers from a pediatric acquired brain injury (PABI), we are demanding action. If we do not receive an adequate response from Apple and AT&T by the time we begin our 15-city American PABI Tour on May 3rd (pabitour.com - to promote awareness and support families who are dealing with PABI) we will hold a demonstration in front of the Apple Store in all 15 cities."

Now, I have all the respect in the world for the work the foundation is doing in support of families that suffer as a result of brain injuries. But I find myself agreeing in large part with the view of CrunchGear Editor in Chief John Biggs, who wrote this in an e-mail exchange with me this morning:

"I think the entire issue has been blown out of proportion by an organization whose sole mission is to prevent baby shaking and hence is enjoying a boost in the news cycle this week. This is simply another permutation of ‘family' organizations blaming video games - in this case a crude simulation of violent behavior that I find abhorrent - for the violent actions in real life. ...The funds - however meager - spent on their press outreach efforts in order to capitalize on someone's harmless bad taste could be better put into more bedside education for new mothers."

I wouldn't characterize anything about the app as "harmless," because in my view stuff like this harms the decency and dignity of the human spirit, which is in enough need as it is of being uplifted. But let's not make a spectacle of the mistake. Let's move on.