Apple and Google are taking measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus misinformation from apps, according to a report from CNBC. Apple, for one, is rejecting all coronavirus-related mobile apps that aren't from the government or official health organizations, developers told the news organization. Google Play, meanwhile, is blocking all searches for coronavirus, though it's not clear if it's completely blocking app approvals, as well.
Apple is manually evaluating apps, looking at both who the developers are and where they got their data from. As such, some independent developers that use World Health Organization (WHO) data are being rejected because they're not recognized health institutions. One developer told CNBC that Apple rejected its coronavirus-related app, saying that "apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution."
Spent all day yesterday building a coronavirus app just to get this rejection 🙃 pic.twitter.com/HSJxp0JERS— Zachary Shakked (@zacharyshakked) March 4, 2020
Because of all that, search results on the App Store show few apps related to the virus. The top result is a Brazilian government app about the outbreak, along with a wallpaper app, a Plague Inc-like game, an app from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a COVID-19 information app published by a medical developer.
A search on Google Play, by contrast, shows "no results found for 'coronavirus'," with the same message on a search for COVID-19. Google has yet to comment (we've reached out), but does have policies against apps that "lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic events" or "profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to the victims."
Google did publish a website called "Coronavirus: Stay informed," with a list including apps from the Red Cross, Center for Disease Control (CDC) news organizations and Twitter(!). However, that page doesn't come up in a Play Store search for coronavirus.
Google doesn't seem to be completely banning independent apps with coronavirus info, CNBC notes. A top Android app called Corona 100m that maps COVID-19 (the diseased caused by the coronavirus) in South Korea is still available, for example.
Technology companies have been fairly proactive about fighting coronavirus misinformation. Facebook and Google are removing false coronavirus content (including bogus cures), and Facebooks is running free WHO ads to counter inaccuracies. Twitter has also banned coronavirus misinformation and Pinterest created a custom search experience to ensure users get reliable information. However, scams, cures and gouging still abound. Amazon in particular is trying to stay on top of product listings that claim to provide coronavirus cures, or are massively overcharging for hand sanitizer, face masks and other health-related items.