Google has disabled all Play Store searches related to the Covid-19 coronavirus now spreading through the world.
First reported by the blog 9to5Google, if you enter either ”coronavirus” or “covid-19” in the Google Play Store, nothing will appear on the results. This is a new situation that has apparently developed in recent days.
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Google hasn’t made any announcements but it’s logical to think that the company wants to limit user access to apps that may wreak further havoc in the population, either spreading misinformation or milking people’s fear: it will be very easy to make an app about Covid-19 that uses ads or offers paid features.
There have not been any reports of such apps yet, though. We only know of malicious online documents that pretend to offer information about the epidemic but actually deliver malware.
It is possible that Google has decided to avoid any potential public health problems by taking this measure against all apps, without individually evaluating them. It’s not crazy to think that some of these apps may actually be useful for users. All the information is online and available on the web, but I can imagine people wanting a virus dashboard app that shows you real-time information about the virus collected from different sources.
A misguided approach?
But if Google has indeed blocked all searches out of fear of spreading misinformation or is afraid that some crooked developers can milk gullible scared users, why ban any coronavirus-related app from the store?
Perhaps a better path of action would have been to establish an in-depth, high priority approval process that could have given people apps useful to fight the spread of the infection.
Furthermore, Google hasn‘t curbed coronavirus searches on its web search service. A search just offers unfiltered information as far as I can see.
Facebook changes misinformation anti-censorship policy... just for the coronavirus
While Facebook hasn't backed down from allowing lies in political ads, Zuckerberg is following a different approach to fight coronavirus on his social network.
As Tech Radar reports, the company is actively hunting and shooting down false claims, conspiracy theories, and anyone peddling miracle cures. If they only could the same with everything else, including paid political advertising.
On the positive side, Facebook is also redirecting any search for coronavirus to the World’s Health Organization and local health authorities. The company is also giving the WHO free advertising space.
Twitter is not blocking content — yet. But it’s reportedly preceding any coronavirus related tweets with a “Know the facts” box that links to information from a verified local health source.
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Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.