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(Credit: Tumblr)


Those of you looking to download the Tumblr app (Android, iOS) on your iPhone or iPad are unable to get it for now. But the app's vanishing act isn't the result of a technical issue or glitch. Through independent sources, Download.com learned that the app was removed due to child pornography that got past the site's filters.

When Download.com presented these findings to Tumblr, a company spokesperson responded with the following statement:

"We're committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users, and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse. As this is an industry-wide problem, we work collaboratively with our industry peers and partners like [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] (NCMEC) to actively monitor content uploaded to the platform. Every image uploaded to Tumblr is scanned against an industry database of known child sexual abuse material, and images that are detected never reach the platform. A routine audit discovered content on our platform that had not yet been included in the industry database. We immediately removed this content. Content safeguards are a challenging aspect of operating scaled platforms. We're continuously assessing further steps we can take to improve and there is no higher priority for our team."

This confirmation helps explain why the Tumblr app was removed so suddenly and why there was little explanation from Tumblr or from Apple, since child pornography is a matter that needs to be coordinated with law enforcement.

In the following statement sent to Download.com, a spokesperson for the NCMEC explained the role that the organization serves in fighting online child pornography and exploitation

"The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children operates the CyberTipline, which serves as the nation's centralized reporting system for online child sexual exploitation. Members of the public and Electronic Service Providers (ESPs) report instances of online child sexual exploitation to the CyberTipline. Last year, NCMEC received more than 10 million reports to its CyberTipline with the vast majority of those reports submitted by ESPs. NCMEC recognizes that global efforts to reduce the proliferation of online child sexual exploitation online requires an industry-wide effort and applauds all ESPs that engage in voluntary efforts to provide content safeguards for their users. In addition to receiving reports from ESPs, any member of the public who comes across suspected child abuse imagery is encouraged to make a CyberTipline report to NCMEC.

In a follow-up statement, the NCMEC spokesperson also explained the specific steps that Electronic Service Providers such as Tumblr take to try to block child pornography.

"NCMEC offers several voluntary initiatives to ESPs who choose to take extra steps to reduce the distribution of online sexual abuse material on their systems. One of NCMEC's initiatives involves facilitating the sharing of hashes of apparent child pornography images among ESPs. Some ESPs and social networks will participate in this initiative to reduce child sexual exploitation images online and some ESPs will rely on other programs and methods to remove such illegal content from their servers."

Tumblr's disappearance was first spotted by PiunikaWeb, which reported on November 16 that users with the iOS parent control features enabled were unable to find the app. Shortly after that, the app vanished completely from the App Store.

Tumblr's help center site noted the disappearance in a statement: "We're working to resolve an issue with the iOS app and hope to be fully functional again soon. We really appreciate your patience as we figure this out, and we'll update this article when we have news to share," the company said.

Through November 18, the company's message on its help center was that its team was still working on the issue with the app. After this article was first published on November 19, Tumblr updated it to include the statement above that its spokesperson presented to Download.com.

Initially, neither Tumblr nor Apple publicly revealed the nature of the "issue." But speculation from a marketing professional on Twitter and 9to5Mac had suggested the app was removed due to inappropriate content in violation of Apple's App Store guidelines.

This isn't the first time Tumblr has run into this type of problem. In March 2018, the Indonesian government briefly blocked Tumblr over the company's failure to remove pornographic content from its service. In 2017, South Korea asked Tumblr to take down certain pornographic content. The company initially rejected that request but eventually promised to better monitor the spread of adult content.

Download.com contacted Apple and will add to this story with any updates.

For now, iOS users who previously downloaded Tumblr may be able to get it again by checking the purchase history on their device. iPhone and iPad owners who want to use Tumblr for the first time will have to wait until the app is reinstated. The app is still available at Google Play for Android users.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Takeaways

  1. The Tumblr app was removed from the Apple App Store because of child pornography that slipped through the company's content filters.
  2. Tumblr has removed the offending content and is working with Apple to get the app reinstated. In the meantime, the app remains unavailable to download from the App Store.

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Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books - "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time" and "Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn."