An App to Track Drone Strikes Lasted Less Than a Day Before Apple Yanked It

Data journalist details five-year fight to make information more available.


Reaper drone
U.S. Air Force

This was supposed to be a post about how anybody who wants to easily keep track of U.S. drone strikes overseas can do so through an app on their iPhone. But never mind. They can't anymore.

This morning, Josh Begley, a data artist for The Intercept, wrote about his struggle to get such an app into the iTunes store for the past several years. His post was supposed to be good news: After rejecting the app several times and at one point allowing it on the market, and then yanking it, Apple had approved the app again.

But then this afternoon, Apple yanked the app from the market yet again. The app, titled Metadata+ (formerly Drones+) is not available for download (I have an iPhone and I checked myself). Begley explained at The Intercept that all the app did was send a push notification to the user whenever a report of a drone strike appeared in the news. He has been told by Apple that the content (which he wasn't even writing) was "excessively objectionable and crude."

Begley described what he was hoping to accomplish:

For the past 15 years, journalists on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have worked hard to uncover the contours of U.S. drone attacks — in some cases at their own peril. Filmmakers, academics, and attorneys have done important work documenting their ghastly aftermath. Websites like The Intercept have published whistleblower exposés about how the covert drone program clicks together.

But buried in the details is a difficult truth: no one really knows who most of these missiles are killing.

Because the particulars of the drone wars are scant, we only have 'metadata' about most of these strikes — perhaps a date, the name of a province, maybe a body count. Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn't much narrative to speak of.

Given that the Trump administration appears to be ramping up military escalations overseas (Ed Krayewski has the terrible details here), one would think there would be an increase in interest among those who don't like where this is all heading, even if they ignored these actions under President Barack Obama's administration.

While Begley's app has been yanked yet again, he does still have a Twitter feed (@Dronestream) that tweets out links to all media coverage of U.S. drone strikes. If you have the Twitter app on your phone, you can follow that feed and at least stay informed.