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Coronavirus: Apple and Google clamp down on COVID-19 apps

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on, so the saying goes, and as with a particular virus that’s on a similar journey just now, misinformation is turning out to be a big part of the outbreak.

Keen to keep its app store clear of software that may carry mistruths, Apple is rejecting app submissions related to COVID-19 — also known as the coronavirus — unless it comes from a recognized health organization or government, according to a CNBC report this week.

Searches on the Google Play Store for “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” currently yield zero results for apps, suggesting the web giant has adopted a similarly strict policy. We’ve contacted Google to find out more and will update this piece when we hear back.

Several developers have told CNBC that Apple recently rejected their virus-related apps, each one designed to give country-specific statistics so that people can see how it’s spreading. The apps obtain their data from official sources such as the World Health Organization, but it appears Apple has enacted a blanket ban to avoid complication. We’ve also reached out to Apple for more information on the matter.

Apple reportedly told one developer over the phone that any app related to COVID-19 must come from an officially recognized source, while another was told in writing that “apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution.”

To be clear, Apple and Google app store searches for “World Health Organization” and the U.S.-based “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” do yield results, with both searches offering a range of apps created by both organizations.

Apple and Google are among many tech companies attempting to keep their platforms clear not only of inaccurate news related to COVID-19, but also products and services seeking to exploit the situation for financial purposes.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, for example, said this week that his team is “focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information.” One of a number of measures include a pop-up directing people to the World Health Organization or local health authorities for any COVID-19-related searches made on its site. Zuckerberg said work is also being done to remove “false claims and conspiracy theories” related to the virus. Twitter, meanwhile, said it’s working to “elevate and amplify authoritative health information as far as possible,” while Amazon said this week that it has already removed more than one million products for price gouging or making misleading claims regarding the virus.

Digital Trends has a page offering some useful tips on how to spot internet-based misinformation about the virus.

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Trevor Mogg
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