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The rise and fall of the iPhone peep show

“Sex is everywhere these days,” we wrote in an article that nearly ended our career 14 years ago. “There’s something about the combination of sex and computers, however, that seems to make otherwise worldly-wise adults a little crazy.”

How else to explain the fuss that got made this week over an application called Hottest Girls that enjoyed a brief moment of notoriety — and an even briefer run as one of the hottest entries in the iTunes App Store.

In case you missed it, the story started late Wednesday night when sharp-eyed Apple watchers at Macenstein reported that the $1.99 app, which until that day had served up mostly photographs of young Asian women in lingerie, had changed its format and gone topless.

“And then there was porn,” wrote Dr. Macenstein in a post illustrated by a heavily Bowdlerized screengrab of what looked like outtakes from a Sports Illustrated bikini issue. He described the unveiling of the first iPhone app with nudity as “an announcement rivaling the first transmissions from the moon landing in importance.”

Never mind that photos like this would hardly turn a head on the magazine racks of Paris — or, for that matter, your average American truck stop — this story had more than bare breasts. It had legs.

Over the next few hours nearly three dozen tech bloggers felt obliged to check out the offerings at Hottest Girls and try their hand at clever headline writing:

MobileCrunch even ran a poll asking readers where they thought the App Store ought to draw the line. Results: 3% voted for “Bare breasts, nothing below the waist,” 18% called for “No nudity whatsoever” and 63% voted for “No limit. If it’s legal, who cares?”

Then, early Thursday, the app disappeared and the story got weirder.

“NoPorn: Apple Removes ‘Hottest Girls’ From The App Store,” was the headline of a TechCrunch piece by Robin Wauters. She bemoaned the decision by “someone over at Cupertino” to reject the iPhone’s first topless app. “So much for the grand opening of the App Store to all things naked.”

But wait! A few hours later TechCrunch’s MG Seigler, who is all over this story (his first item coined the term iPorn; his most recent asks who exactly is in charge of the App Store), ran a piece that contradicted his colleague’s.

Quoting “Allen the Geek” — the “guy team” behind the app — Seigler reported that it was the developer, not Apple’s (AAPL) censors, who pulled Hottest Girls from the App Store. And not out of priggishness, but to keep their servers from melting down under the crushing demand.

“The Hottest Girls app is temporarily sold out,” wrote the Geek team. “To answer the question on everyone’s mind: Yes, the topless images will still be there when it is sold again.”

One rule of journalism we learned the hard way is not to trust guys who traffic in porn — especially if they use pseudonyms like Allen the Geek. In a headsnapping update, Seigler had to reverse course a few hours later. It turned out Apple PR had contacted‘s Wes Finley-Price and taken responsibility for Hottest Girls’ removal.

“Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content, such as pornography,” wrote Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr. “The developer of this application added inappropriate content directly from their server after the application had been approved and distributed, and after the developer had subsequently been asked to remove some offensive content. This was a direct violation of the terms of the iPhone Developer Program. The application is no longer available on the App Store.”

This is probably not the end of the story. As long as there is money to be made marketing this material there will be entrepreneurs lining up to sell it. By Friday morning a search of the App Store for “Hottest Girls” couldn’t find the original, but did turn up 30 cheesy contenders, from “Sexy Hotties Slideshow- Free!” to “What Women Want.”

I’m not a woman and don’t presume to speak for them, but I’m pretty sure this is not what most women want.