The Story Behind Phone Story, Apple's Latest App Store Ban

Posted by patrickklepek (3914 posts) -

Apple approved Phone Story for sale in its App Store last Friday. The application's developer, Molleindustria, decided to be patient and prepare a formal announcement for the week after. Just before noon, only hours prior to the official news going out, Phone Story was taken down. As of this writing, it's still not available in the App Store.

Phone Story is not a traditional piece of software. It's a game and interactive statement, using the attraction of game mechanics to pull players into a charged narrative that has a very specific message to convey. Phone Story wants to remind users about the impact their love of electronic devices and how an obsession with The New Thing has consequences around the world.

Phone Story is split into four mini-games. First, you're directing soldiers of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to maintain an efficient workforce of children extracting the resources needed for the devices we love. In another, you're directing a grounded safety net around to catch assembly line workers from committing suicide, a commentary on the ongoing tragedies at factories abroad, such as Foxconn. In the third mini-game, you're an "Apple" employee tossing devices at hungry, mindless customers. The final game invokes the dirty process of recycling discarded devices, as different iDevice pieces come down the screen.

A narrator is present throughout the entire experience, putting the mini-games in context.

Paolo Pedercini intended to make a statement, but Apple's content guidelines are not very clear.

30-year-old Pittsburgh, PA resident Paolo Pedercini is the creator of Phone Story, a designer unafraid to shock you--but doesn't come across as someone merely hoping to shock. He also wants you to listen.

When I first emailed Pedercini, I asked the obvious question: didn't you know this would happen?

"I'm very familiar with the app store policy and the game is designed to be compliant with it," he said. "If the project was just about being censored we could have gone further. [...] If you check the guidelines, Phone Story doesn't really violate any rule except for the generic 'excessively objectionable and crude content' and maybe the 'depiction of abuse of children.' Yes, there's dark humor and violence but it's cartoonish and stylized--way more mellow than a lot of other games on the App Store."

Pedercini wouldn't expand on Phone Story might have changed if he'd purposely gone "further," but to underscore his provocateur nature, Pedercini told me about an application he had been mulling over. It's...explicit.

"A similar project that I was planning to distribute only to jailbroken devices," he said, "involved a dominatrix talking vagina the user was supposed to lick regularly (little known fact: touch screens work with your tongue) like a virtual pet for phone fetishists."

Like I said: provocateur.

Players click/touch the children who decide to take a break from mining more materials.

Pedercini received a phone call from an Apple employee named Richard when Phone Story was removed. The employee was open to a discussion, but their conversation didn't last very long. Pedercini was told his application had been removed for violating the following guidelines:

  • 15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected
  • 16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected
  • 21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free
  • 21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

Phone Story does not solicit donations through the application--that would be handled when profits came in from sales. Since Phone Story has been removed, it's unclear whether that will happen with its iOS release, as Pedercini isn't clear how many people were able to purchase the application before it was pulled down. 15.2 provides the biggest issue for Pedercini, as his depiction is front and center in Phone Story, and while he may disagree with Apple's interpretation, the App Store is curated.

"We are considering to make an app that uses broad metaphors to address the same issues," he said. "That's what directors used to do during McCarthyism and artists used to under totalitarian regimes. In an Apple-controlled technological world, where computers are replaced by dumb tablets, we'll have to resume strategies from the dark times of our history."

If you have an Android phone, you don't have to wait, as the application is now available there. I played Phone Story on my Mac and not my iPhone, thanks to a version he provided me. It's unclear if what I played will be released.

Suicide nets were installed at Foxconn facilities following a large number of employee suicides.

The App Store is familiar to this kind of controversy. Now former Apple CEO Steve Jobs' personal stance, which defines Apple, has been clear on pornography, but when it comes to satire, politics and social commentary, where the line should be drawn hasn't been clear.

Pulitzer winner cartoonist Mark Fiore had his application pulled for poking fun at political figures. Media outrage prompted Apple to allow it back. Such decisions come on a case-by-case basis, however, and small, independent developers like Pedercini have little way of fighting back.

"I own an iPhone and I've been following all of the issues addressed in the game--things that make me uncomfortable as a consumer and as software developer," he said. "Since the App Store [opened] people kept asking me: 'Why don't you make a game for iPhone?' and I had to talk for a while about what I think is wrong in this Apple-complex. This game is basically the answer to that simple question."

Even though Phone Story is available on Android, don't assume that's explicit approval of Google, either. Pedercini has his own concerns there, but for now, pivoting there is his only option to respond quickly.

"I'd be much happier if the game was actually available to everybody and possibly generating discussions around the issues it addresses instead of creating even more debate around the controversial App Store policies," he said.

More information on Pedercini's concerns about modern consumerism, its effects on the world, proposed solutions to the problem and what you can do to influence the cause one way or the other can be found at Phone Story's website.

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3914 posts) -

Apple approved Phone Story for sale in its App Store last Friday. The application's developer, Molleindustria, decided to be patient and prepare a formal announcement for the week after. Just before noon, only hours prior to the official news going out, Phone Story was taken down. As of this writing, it's still not available in the App Store.

Phone Story is not a traditional piece of software. It's a game and interactive statement, using the attraction of game mechanics to pull players into a charged narrative that has a very specific message to convey. Phone Story wants to remind users about the impact their love of electronic devices and how an obsession with The New Thing has consequences around the world.

Phone Story is split into four mini-games. First, you're directing soldiers of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to maintain an efficient workforce of children extracting the resources needed for the devices we love. In another, you're directing a grounded safety net around to catch assembly line workers from committing suicide, a commentary on the ongoing tragedies at factories abroad, such as Foxconn. In the third mini-game, you're an "Apple" employee tossing devices at hungry, mindless customers. The final game invokes the dirty process of recycling discarded devices, as different iDevice pieces come down the screen.

A narrator is present throughout the entire experience, putting the mini-games in context.

Paolo Pedercini intended to make a statement, but Apple's content guidelines are not very clear.

30-year-old Pittsburgh, PA resident Paolo Pedercini is the creator of Phone Story, a designer unafraid to shock you--but doesn't come across as someone merely hoping to shock. He also wants you to listen.

When I first emailed Pedercini, I asked the obvious question: didn't you know this would happen?

"I'm very familiar with the app store policy and the game is designed to be compliant with it," he said. "If the project was just about being censored we could have gone further. [...] If you check the guidelines, Phone Story doesn't really violate any rule except for the generic 'excessively objectionable and crude content' and maybe the 'depiction of abuse of children.' Yes, there's dark humor and violence but it's cartoonish and stylized--way more mellow than a lot of other games on the App Store."

Pedercini wouldn't expand on Phone Story might have changed if he'd purposely gone "further," but to underscore his provocateur nature, Pedercini told me about an application he had been mulling over. It's...explicit.

"A similar project that I was planning to distribute only to jailbroken devices," he said, "involved a dominatrix talking vagina the user was supposed to lick regularly (little known fact: touch screens work with your tongue) like a virtual pet for phone fetishists."

Like I said: provocateur.

Players click/touch the children who decide to take a break from mining more materials.

Pedercini received a phone call from an Apple employee named Richard when Phone Story was removed. The employee was open to a discussion, but their conversation didn't last very long. Pedercini was told his application had been removed for violating the following guidelines:

  • 15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected
  • 16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected
  • 21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free
  • 21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

Phone Story does not solicit donations through the application--that would be handled when profits came in from sales. Since Phone Story has been removed, it's unclear whether that will happen with its iOS release, as Pedercini isn't clear how many people were able to purchase the application before it was pulled down. 15.2 provides the biggest issue for Pedercini, as his depiction is front and center in Phone Story, and while he may disagree with Apple's interpretation, the App Store is curated.

"We are considering to make an app that uses broad metaphors to address the same issues," he said. "That's what directors used to do during McCarthyism and artists used to under totalitarian regimes. In an Apple-controlled technological world, where computers are replaced by dumb tablets, we'll have to resume strategies from the dark times of our history."

If you have an Android phone, you don't have to wait, as the application is now available there. I played Phone Story on my Mac and not my iPhone, thanks to a version he provided me. It's unclear if what I played will be released.

Suicide nets were installed at Foxconn facilities following a large number of employee suicides.

The App Store is familiar to this kind of controversy. Now former Apple CEO Steve Jobs' personal stance, which defines Apple, has been clear on pornography, but when it comes to satire, politics and social commentary, where the line should be drawn hasn't been clear.

Pulitzer winner cartoonist Mark Fiore had his application pulled for poking fun at political figures. Media outrage prompted Apple to allow it back. Such decisions come on a case-by-case basis, however, and small, independent developers like Pedercini have little way of fighting back.

"I own an iPhone and I've been following all of the issues addressed in the game--things that make me uncomfortable as a consumer and as software developer," he said. "Since the App Store [opened] people kept asking me: 'Why don't you make a game for iPhone?' and I had to talk for a while about what I think is wrong in this Apple-complex. This game is basically the answer to that simple question."

Even though Phone Story is available on Android, don't assume that's explicit approval of Google, either. Pedercini has his own concerns there, but for now, pivoting there is his only option to respond quickly.

"I'd be much happier if the game was actually available to everybody and possibly generating discussions around the issues it addresses instead of creating even more debate around the controversial App Store policies," he said.

More information on Pedercini's concerns about modern consumerism, its effects on the world, proposed solutions to the problem and what you can do to influence the cause one way or the other can be found at Phone Story's website.

Staff
#2 Posted by Moody_yeti (369 posts) -

:O

#3 Posted by Sooty (8082 posts) -

and now to hear from our smartphone correspondent, Patrick Klepek

#4 Posted by FirePrince (1763 posts) -

Man I love Patrick's articles.

#5 Posted by NoelVeiga (1087 posts) -

His points are... rather weak, in line with the most stilted and worst of modern art (but hey, modern art they are), but Apple's reaction is just shameful. I'd rather have the ability to dismiss the guy's demagoguery than suffer censorship, thank you very much.

#7 Posted by Warchief (657 posts) -

add this to the list of reasons apple no longer used the tag line "Think Different" .

#8 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

I'm definitely on the side of freedom of expression, but did he really think this app was going to stick around the store? You aren't going to walk into Walmart and buy a shirt with writing that says, "We underpay our workers at Walmart!"

This is a store curating their own materials, and whether or not you agree with that, it's their right as a private business.

#9 Posted by SSully (4147 posts) -

DOWN WITH THE SYSTEM!

But in all seriousness it makes sense why this was taken down. It doesnt matter how stylized the graphics are, it depicts people killing themselves, illegal child labor and the most obvious thing it does is openly insult the company who owns the device he is trying to put the game on.

With all that said do I support apples decision? No, I am all for open systems, but if I ran apples app store I personally wouldn't let this shit on there.

Also I would like to try this, but this guy has another thing coming if he thinks I am going to pay a dollar to experience this "game"

#10 Posted by Babylonian (837 posts) -

Man, I love Molleindustria. Paolo seriously is a genius. I loved his idea for a Kanye West Twitter game, I loved Every Day The Same Dream (which was adapted into a short film), I loved his IDGA speech imploring his fellow Italians to "go make a game". He's a brilliant dude, and he makes me miss writing about indie stuff.

I actually had no idea that he's now living in Pittsburgh. Great write-up, Patrick!

#11 Posted by Apocralyptic (164 posts) -

I suppose it's Apple's party, so they can do what they want. Just like any retail outlet, Apple has quite a bit of latitude to decide what is sold in their store. They could probably stand to be a little less uptight about stuff like this, though... I doubt this guy's game was going to make anyone give up their iPhones.

#12 Posted by SpudBug (633 posts) -

Apple, the future of the games industry.

Fuck them.

#13 Posted by 71Ranchero (2716 posts) -

If you take a shit on someones doorstep they arent going to be happy about it. Make your protest in flash and put it up on on the net if your going to try to do something like this.

Online
#14 Posted by Fira (33 posts) -

I'm so outraged that their products aren't cheaper since they're getting all this cheap labor.

#15 Posted by Hameyadea (347 posts) -

And here I am, thinking that Apple reviews any and all of the Apps before they go on e-sale.

#16 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@SSully: Depictions of unfortunate subject matter shouldn't be grounds for banning something. If it serves an artistic or otherwise important message, it should be encouraged.

It's the insult to the company that owns the device that matters.

#17 Posted by forkboy (1127 posts) -

I think it is definitely an interesting idea & he's raised an important point that often gets ignored, the high cost for our consumer driven, electronics mad comfortable world. Far too easy to forget the high human cost of these goods unfortunately.

#18 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@Atramentous: Wouldn't be able to view it from an iPhone then :)

#19 Edited by Superfriend (1540 posts) -

Great article and really interesting case we got here.. but somehow I think games like this exist only for their shock value. It's an old PR concept: Generate an event and have short term profit from the short popularity of whatever you're trying to sell.

Dude probably knew this was going to happen and this is gonna help him get some sales on other platforms.

Still, an interesting game and he's right about at least one thing: The discussion about unethical practices used in the creation of our modern toys should definitely happen among the masses (it really won´t since most people are perfectly fine with being consumerist sheep)

#20 Posted by Constable_Wiggum (103 posts) -
#21 Posted by MisterMouse (3543 posts) -

This article seems to be missing something for some reason. I can't place my finger on it, but it needs something else to wrap it all up. It seemed to finish to quickly, and made a lot of it feel like a non-issue. I don't know I will think about what it needs, but it doesn't have the same flow as some of klepek's other articles.

#22 Posted by SquadBroken (280 posts) -

This probably wouldn't have gotten much attention but banning it will make it bigger than it ever could have been naturally.

#23 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@Superfriend said:

Dude probably knew this was going to happen and this is gonna help him get some sales on other platforms.

Absolutely. Or even if not sales, assuming his altruism, he still knew it would cause people like us to be talking about it.

#24 Posted by CheapPoison (727 posts) -

Now i'd just like to see it for myself.

Could be interesting in some way, if even just for the backstory.

#25 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@MisterMouse said:

This article seems to be missing something for some reason. I can't place my finger on it, but it needs something else to wrap it all up. It seemed to finish to quickly, and made a lot of it feel like a non-issue. I don't know I will think about what it needs, but it doesn't have the same flow as some of klepek's other articles.

That certainly adds to the conversation.

#26 Posted by SSully (4147 posts) -

@BrockNRolla: The depictions go against clear rules that apple has though. It depicts violence against children and it contains very crude content. It doesn't matter if it is artistic or not, you are still forcing children to work and trying to stop people from killing themselves for wrong reasons in this game, which goes against the guidelines. As I said I am all for open systems, such as the andorid market, but I dont think this game being withheld from the apple store is surprising in the least because it clearly goes against the company, and the rules they have instated.

#27 Posted by forkboy (1127 posts) -

@SSully: I don't really think the point is for you to buy this. It's not a "game" per se. It is a social statement in the form of a game, where the message is much more important than the experience. I've not played it as I don't have a smartphone, but I'd not be surprised to hear that getting this removed from the App Store was intentional to help raise a stir, make people read articles like this one & find themselves more educated on the actual cost of iPhones (& other mobile phones discarded all too freely for new models every 6 months), as opposed to the simple cash cost.

#28 Posted by confideration (404 posts) -

well duh

#29 Posted by Alex_Carrillo (280 posts) -

Release it on the Nintendo eShop :D

#30 Posted by MisterMouse (3543 posts) -

@BrockNRolla: I know! It increases the conversation beyond what you would expect this article to be about, and brings a razors edge to what it means to write an informative article like this.

#31 Posted by forkboy (1127 posts) -

@SSully: What's worse? Forcing children to work in a video game for satirical purposes or forcing children to work in real life in a toxic enviroment for pennies so we can have our latest mod con?

#32 Posted by Spekingur (161 posts) -

@BrockNRolla said:

I'm definitely on the side of freedom of expression, but did he really think this app was going to stick around the store? You aren't going to walk into Walmart and buy a shirt with writing that says, "We underpay our workers at Walmart!"

This is a store curating their own materials, and whether or not you agree with that, it's their right as a private business.

It's not a freedom of expression if a corporation can control what is expressed.

#33 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@SSully said:

@BrockNRolla: The depictions go against clear rules that apple has though. It depicts violence against children and it contains very crude content. It doesn't matter if it is artistic or not, you are still forcing children to work and trying to stop people from killing themselves for wrong reasons in this game, which goes against the guidelines. As I said I am all for open systems, such as the andorid market, but I dont think this game being withheld from the apple store is surprising in the least because it clearly goes against the company, and the rules they have instated.

Yes, you're certainly right. They do have prescribed rules, which in this case have been broken. They have a contractual stance to shore up whatever protest might be made.

I do think though that we should be wary of banning things on a content wide basis; it's something the Supreme Court hasn't supported in anything but child pornography. If someone made a game that depicted work camps in Nazi Germany, I don't think it would deserve an outright ban. If there were good reasons for the depiction, I think Apple should feel compelled to allow it.

#34 Posted by Babylonian (837 posts) -

@Superfriend said:

Great article and really interesting case we got here.. but somehow I think games like this exist only for their shock value. It's an old PR concept: Generate an event and have short term profit from the short popularity of whatever you're trying to sell.

Dude probably knew this was going to happen and this is gonna help him get some sales on other platforms.

Um, you realize that he's not making a profit from any of this, right?

That's an image of the profit breakdown on Phone Story. Of the 70% that doesn't go right into Apple's pocket, it's all going to charities like SACOM who exist to fight the injustices depicted in the game.

#35 Posted by tallTuck94 (553 posts) -

if the video game industry wants to be taken seriously it needs to stand up for developers like this

he created a satire on commercialism and this is obviously meant to carry a serious idea, and using apples system against it is a great idea

in terms of the child abuse; it's 8 bit graphics, it's not meant to be taken lightly and in my opinion some of the apps my friends have on their phones are much worse

although i am biased seeing as i'm the only one of those i personally know that hasn't given apple any money ever and i hope to keep that up

#36 Posted by LiquidPenguins (181 posts) -

Why does every indie developer have a shitty hair?

#37 Posted by SSully (4147 posts) -

@forkboy: I think charging for something like this goes against the point of trying to make people aware though. I have played plenty of art games that have dark messages, and they are usually free. I am all for playing this to see what the guy is trying to say about apple and our consumer driven society, but not when it is going to cost me money. I pay to read books, see movies, and go to art museums to experience peoples statements about our world, and those are worth every penny. But this is a small game that most likely took him a month to make in his spare time, and will only take about 5 minutes of my time. So in my opinion, it is not worth a dollar, it should be free for anyone to experience.

#38 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@Spekingur said:

@BrockNRolla said:

I'm definitely on the side of freedom of expression, but did he really think this app was going to stick around the store? You aren't going to walk into Walmart and buy a shirt with writing that says, "We underpay our workers at Walmart!"

This is a store curating their own materials, and whether or not you agree with that, it's their right as a private business.

It's not a freedom of expression if a corporation can control what is expressed.

Business's have a right to run their business as they so choose. You can't paint your next-door neighbor's house because you're expressing yourself. People still have rights on their private property.

I think Apple should be careful though, because they could be on a slippery slope in stifling the creativity to be found on the app store.

#39 Edited by Dry_Carton (76 posts) -

@NoelVeiga: Weak? They aren't weak. They are not controversial though. Talking about these things shouldn't be (and isn't) tabu. A company with nothing to hide would not have banned this game.

#40 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@Babylonian said:

@Superfriend said:

Great article and really interesting case we got here.. but somehow I think games like this exist only for their shock value. It's an old PR concept: Generate an event and have short term profit from the short popularity of whatever you're trying to sell.

Dude probably knew this was going to happen and this is gonna help him get some sales on other platforms.

Um, you realize that he's not making a profit from any of this, right?

That's an image of the profit breakdown on Phone Story. Of the 70% that doesn't go right into Apple's pocket, it's all going to charities like SACOM who exist to fight the injustices depicted in the game.

Not to deny your point here, but I do believe Apple takes 30%, not 70%.

#41 Edited by SSully (4147 posts) -

@forkboy said:

@SSully: What's worse? Forcing children to work in a video game for satirical purposes or forcing children to work in real life in a toxic enviroment for pennies so we can have our latest mod con?

I think we both know the answer to that. What is your point?

@BrockNRolla: I agree 100% There are things that should be made an exception to rules, and I feel this could have been an exception to those rules, if it didn't go against apples entire business.

#42 Edited by granderojo (1778 posts) -

1. The mining in the Congo only represents a fraction of the Colton mining, which is what is being depicted in the game. Apple is one of the companies which has actually been transparent about this process and has welcomed efforts to help keep Colton from the Congo out of their supply chain. Most of the Colton from their supply chain comes from other countries namely Australia.

2. China has 149 million migrant laborers, who are fighting for as low a wage as they can to ensure work. This is a problem across China, Apple is just one cog in the machine of this problem. Since the 10 suicides, Foxconn has agreed to increase wages 30%.

Now I'm not saying I like Apple or I necessarily agree with these processes but people need to understand that while the games depicted here are true, they are also am exaggeration of something far more complex. That said I welcome games like this because we as a society need games like this to be in our lexicon, just like political cartoons were in the lexicon of the early 20th century.

#43 Posted by DrSnaqrite (37 posts) -

The one thing I don't really get about what he says is that he seems to indicate that games do not exist outside of tablets. I'm pretty sure he could release this on PCs and Macs and have a shot at it being successful, depending on how he classifies success for a game like this. Also seeming to claim that Apple not letting a game that (whether accurate or not) suggests Apple and businesses like it are at least partially to blame for child labor and suicide is the same as a totalitarian government is quite a bit of a stretch.

Ultimately I hope his game gets out there because I hate to see things like this get censored, but there's other ways to do it. It might not have the same ironic bite as making an iPhone game where you attack Apple and their customers, but if you really believe in the controversial message you're trying to send, then just try to send that message however you can, don't act surprised if not everybody is willing to distribute it.

#44 Posted by Alex_Carrillo (280 posts) -

This game is staggeringly dull. You can't even shoot the children. I had to tell the same kid twice to keep mining. If it were up to me the first warning would have been his last.

#45 Posted by DonutFever (3550 posts) -

"eh said."

Was he Canadian?

#46 Posted by BoneChompski (203 posts) -

Do the Foxconn workers jump because they only have 3G phones and the OS updates made them unusable?

Or is it because using a human as a cheap piece of machinery and treating them as such makes people depressed and want to die?

#47 Posted by Superfriend (1540 posts) -

@Babylonian: I didn´t say he does this sort of thing for his own personal gain. I said it´s a PR strategy used to get more sales in the short term.

What he then does with the money, I honestly don´t care. Just pointing out the discussion and the ban could be good for the sales of this title (if it doesn´t get banned elsewhere too).

#48 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@DonutFever said:

"eh said."

Was he Canadian?

Ha! I wondered the same thing.

#49 Posted by Alex_Carrillo (280 posts) -
@LiquidPenguins
Why does every indie developer have a shitty hair?
This.
#50 Posted by DrSnaqrite (37 posts) -

@SSully said:

@forkboy: I think charging for something like this goes against the point of trying to make people aware though. I have played plenty of art games that have dark messages, and they are usually free. I am all for playing this to see what the guy is trying to say about apple and our consumer driven society, but not when it is going to cost me money. I pay to read books, see movies, and go to art museums to experience peoples statements about our world, and those are worth every penny. But this is a small game that most likely took him a month to make in his spare time, and will only take about 5 minutes of my time. So in my opinion, it is not worth a dollar, it should be free for anyone to experience.

What? You think paying money to see art in an art museum is "worth every penny," but not playing this game only because it only took him "a month" and will only take you five minutes? You do realize that paintings can take less than a month to make, even only in an artist's spare time, and could take you less than five minutes to see everything they have to say? I mean, games are not on the same level of art, in general, as most other mediums, but that's just ridiculous. I fully support artists who are able to put their artwork out there for free, but artists need money to live, too. I can't help but be shocked that you seem to sympathize at least partially with his message about consumerism and immoral employment practices, and yet you're unwilling to spend a couple dollars to support the artist spreading this message.

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