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Apple and Google are cracking down on coronavirus apps to combat misinformation

Apple and Google are cracking down on coronavirus apps to combat misinformation


Platform owners are restricting who can publish coronavirus information

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Both Apple and Google have begun cracking down on apps related to the coronavirus, according to a new report from CNBC. App developers who spoke with the news organization say Apple is rejecting any and all coronavirus-related mobile software not from recognized health organizations or the government. CNBC also reports that Google is not returning any results for coronavirus-related searches on the Play Store, although it’s unclear at this time if Google is restricting the approval of new apps, too.

Apple appears to be catching new coronavirus-related apps in its manual review process, with one developer telling CNBC they received a message from the iPhone maker reading, “Apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution.”

Apple and Google are taking measures to prevent misleading coronavirus apps

Some well-meaning mobile apps from independent developers that rely on World Health Organization data and information form recognized health institutions are getting caught up in the ban, CNBC reports. That’s because Apple is apparently evaluating whether apps that provide information related to the coronavirus can be trusted sources of information for the public, CNBC says. In this case, it would seem Apple is restricting those trusted sources to only official health organizations and the government. Apple declined to comment for this story.

Right now, few iOS apps related to the virus are appearing in search results or in top app rankings, CNBC reports, although there are existing and mostly benign options available. Those include a “virus tracker” app from a company called Healthlynked, a COVID-19 (the illness caused by the novel coronavirus) app from medical resource company Unbound, and a Portuguese-language app published by the Brazilian government with information about the virus.

As for Android, Google appears to be deliberately blocking search results for the virus and COVID-19, yet we don’t know if the company has an outright ban on new apps related to the coronavirus. Google does, as CNBC points out, have existing policies against apps that deny the existence of “major tragic effects”; apps that “lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event[s]”; and apps that appear to “profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to the victims.”

Google declined to comment for this story, but the company did point The Verge to a series of approved apps providing coronavirus information, including ones from the American Red Cross, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Doctor On Demand, as well as news apps like the official Twitter Android app and News 360. Apps that are found to be in violation of its “sensitive events” policy, outlined above, can be removed as well, so it doesn’t just apply to yet-to-be-published apps still in review.

Apple and Google are far from the only companies taking measures to cut down on content that either peddles misinformation or seeks to take exploit the ongoing outbreak for financial gain. Facebook, the company’s Instagram subsidiary, and Twitter have instituted bans on coronavirus misinformation, and Amazon is currently grappling with waves of new product listings that are exploiting the situation by either claiming to provide cures or protection against COVID-19 or price gouging health items like hand sanitizer and face masks.

Etsy has begun cracking down on coronavirus listings on its marketplace, and Google has followed Facebook in banning coronavirus-related ads, although offenders are still slipping through the cracks.