Italy's tourism minister, Michela Brambilla, has instructed the official state lawyer to seek the removal from sale of a "defamatory" iPhone application and to take legal action against the app's maker.
The "What Country" application, produced by Apalon, a division of MoveYourWeb, provides immediately recognisable national stereotypes to accompany users' tourist photos in a photographic album. The application, which works with iPhones, the iPod Touch and iPads, is available from the Apple App Store.
The app associates Italy with pizzas, scooters and the Mafia, and it is the latter connection that has enraged many Italians.
"It's an offensive and unacceptable representation, what's more, accompanied by an explanatory text that, if possible, makes things even worse," Brambilla said in a statement announcing her call for legal action to protect Italy's international image.
The incriminated text reads in part: "The Mafia in Italy is large. No surprise. It's known as Cosa Nostra... The Mafia in Italy constitutes a formidable economic power, which accounts for 10 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product)."
Italy is a beacon for the world, because of its history, culture and style, Brambilla insisted. "As a citizen and as a minister, I cannot allow our country to be discredited by using a criminal organisation as our testimonial," she said.
The minister's protest follows recent criticism in Italy of the Julia Roberts film "Eat, Pray, Love", where the "eat" part applies to Italy, as reinforcing unflattering stereotypes about the Mediterranean peninsula.
Apalon Vice President Peter Melnikov said that the app is not meant to be a straight travel guide.
"The app is based on interactive map featuring funny stereotypes about particular countries," Melnikov said in an e-mail response to a query. "We are following comments on Italian sites and see that lots of people understand that those stereotypes in question associated with Italy were not invented by us. In the end of the day we hope users will understand satire and respect freedom of speech."
Some Italian commentators appear to agree.
The "What Country" app "employs much overused concepts, but with a deliberately ironic and satirical approach," Claudio Tamburrino commented in the online magazine punto-informatico. "But it will be difficult to
prove a denigratory intention, and the question of jurisdiction is also complex, given the transnational nature of the mobile marketplace."
Apalon does not appear to have a particular devotion to good taste. The company's website says another of its applications, "Drunk Sniper," "is turning iPhone or iPod Touch into male body organ which can be realistically manipulated by the user while relieving themselves of a couple of beers."
Apple was not immediately available for comment.