Coronavirus Apps: Should App Stores Ban or Approve Them?

Image: CNN

The coronavirus fear has spread across the globe as the outbreak continues to make headlines. Travel restrictions, cancelled public events, quarantines, suspicious cases, and death tolls are all over our TV screens.

As everyone worries about the rising death toll, app developers have a different response. Ever since the disease broke out, developers have been creating apps to keep users informed. However, app stores including Google and Apple have been cracking down on the apps.

Should the platforms let the apps be given the severity of the situation?

The rising popularity of coronavirus apps

The greatest asset that people have in times of a crisis is accurate information. You can only make a sober decision with the right information at hand at the right time.

The purpose of creating these apps is to help users know the level of risks in their current location. Coronavirus is spreading through physical contact.

South Korea is one of the worst-hit countries with over 7,000 reported cases. Coronavirus apps are most popular in this tech-savvy country.

The apps use government data to show users how far they are from a confirmed case. The apps give all available data on the patient including the location, date of confirmation of the case, and demographics.

In a recent interview, the owner of one of the popular apps, Corona 100m cited the increasing downloads. The mentioned app was hitting 20,000 installs in an hour.

Corona 100m sends an alert every time the user comes at least 100m from the location that a confirmed patient visited.

Japan has also borrowed the idea where one free app has over 120 registered doctors. The doctors use the apps to advise users, especially those experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

Who knew that mobile apps would come in handy in times of such a crisis?

Crackdowns

While thousands turn to coronavirus apps in desperation, app stores are cracking down on the same apps. Apple and Google have been rejecting apps from developers sharing coronavirus information.

The platforms are citing the need to give accurate information to users.

Apple is specifically rejecting apps from individuals. The store is only accepting coronavirus apps from governments and recognised health care institutions.

Consequently, app developers who had previously submitted their apps for approval are getting message with a ban.

The restrictions make sense to a certain extent because misinformation can cause unnecessary panic. However, there are well-meaning developers with accurate information that can help the situation.

Most app developers are relying on information from the World Health Organization and their respective governments.

Unlike before, fewer apps are now appearing among the top results for virus-related apps on the iOS app store.

Google is using a different strategy on its app store. The platform is blocking search results for Covid-19. It is still unclear to developers if the play store is simply rejecting new apps or careful with the information shared.

Even approved apps risk a ban if owners violate Google’s policy on sensitive events such as a disease outbreak.

Both Google and Apple are constantly monitoring the few available virus apps to ensure that they do not violate their policies.

Such restrictions are protecting users from spam. However, they are blocking genuine developers from playing a part in combating the fast-spreading disease.

If only a few apps are available, users have to deal with a slow performance given the large number of downloads reported per hour.

In addition, the platforms are not providing the criterion used to disqualify app developers. Instead, uploaded apps are simply not appearing among search results.

Further restrictions

Google and Apple are not the only tech-companies concerned about misinformation about coronavirus. Facebook and Amazon have also joined in the fight against inaccurate data shared about Covid-19.

Amazon promised to pull down any product listing that claims to cure or protect customers against coronavirus.

You can trust some crooks to take advantage of the situation and introduce such products.

Esty has followed Amazon’s path in pulling down listings that relate to curing or preventing the virus.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are also restricting any misinformation about the virus that users may attempt to share on the platforms.

Both Google and Facebook have banned any ads related to the disease.

With such strict measures from the most popular social platforms and marketplaces, it is difficult for spammers to spread fake news and data.

However, some criminals are cracking through the bans to sell products, especially in the worst-hit regions.

Are Kenyan developers ready?

We have all heard the reports and briefs from the government about the level of preparedness in our public hospitals. Luckily, all suspected cases in the country have tested negative for Covid-19.

However, tension is still high as some African countries begin to report confirmed cases. There are still some loopholes in our travel bans.

Our challenge is to app developers in Kenya. South Koreans and Japanese developers were ready to offer software that is now keeping thousands of users safe.

Do we have such expertise and quick response from Kenyan developers? Have we failed to use technology to provide solutions in times of crisis in the past?

The hope of every Kenyan is that coronavirus will not seep through our borders. If that happens, software developers should be ready to provide quick solutions in the form of mobile and web apps.

Software engineers in Kenya should take the challenge from those in Asian countries to stop over-relying on the government in a crisis.

The government has an obligation to protect citizens. However, with such an outbreak, it takes both citizens and the government to control its spread.

Final Thoughts

It is rational for app stores and social platforms to monitor the information that users are sharing about Coronavirus. Tension is already too high in countries reporting thousands and hundreds of confirmed cases.

However, the platforms should have a fair process of banning new Covid-19 related apps. Some genuine app developers are willing to use their expertise to control the outbreak and save lives.

We are in the age of digital technology and mobile apps. Developers should have room to exercise their creativity as long as they do not violate the policy guidelines for respective platforms.

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