App stores attempt to keep lid on coronavirus misinformation

App stores attempt to keep lid on coronavirus misinformation
Credit: Apple

The tech companies heading up the two most prominent app stores are working to keep apps related to the outbreak of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, to a minimum. Apple is reported not taking apps — even well-meant ones — that aren’t from an official health organization. Google, meanwhile, appears to be directing users to existing health-related apps.

According to a report from CNBC, Apple is rejecting apps related to the coronavirus that aren’t from institutions such as governments or hospitals. This is presumably to halt the spread of misinformation about the virus, which could reach trusting people faster than even the virus itself can. CNBC’s report appears to have been corroborated by this tweet from developer Zachary Shakked, which shows a rejection from Apple using the exact same words. Anonymous sources speaking to CNBC speculate Apple is evaluating “both where the health data comes from and whether the developers represent organizations that users can trust to publish accurate data, like governments or health-focused organizations.”

It also quoted a line from the App Store Review Guidelines that reads “Apps that provide services in highly-regulated fields (such as banking and financial services, healthcare, and air travel) or that require sensitive user information should be submitted by a legal entity that provides the services, and not by an individual developer.”

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At the time of this writing, we weren’t able to find any apps in the Google Play Store related to the coronavirus except this list of apps designed to help users stay “safe and informed.” The list includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official app, as well as American Red Cross’s First Aid app. In the App Store, a search for “COVID-19” turned up a few tracker apps. At the moment, a “HealthLynked COVID-19 Tracker” is the number one app in the medical section — HealthLynked being a patient care record system that presumably falls under Apple‘s list of “recognized institutions.”

Considering misinformation and conspiracy theories are already spreading on social media despite numerous attempts by the companies to quash them, it’s probably for the best that Apple and Google remain cautious. Panic over the pandemic is reaching new heights, to the point where companies are cancelling are postponing major events or requiring workers to work from home — TNW’s own conference was recently delayed from June to October due to the scare.

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