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Google is hiding 'coronavirus' apps from the Play Store – and it's not alone

Google Play Store
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Google appears to have hidden apps related to coronavirus from search results in the Google Play store.

The change, as reported by 9to5Google, is likely an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation about the virus.

At the time of writing, searches for 'coronavirus' and 'Covid-19' (the official name for the disease caused by the virus) yield no results. Such searches worked as expected until very recently, and a search for 'covid' reveals dozens of apps containing both terms.

Some apps about protecting yourself from the virus might be benign or even helpful guides, with information about correct hand-washing and how to quarantine yourself. However, apps could also be used to spread misinformation that's unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst.

It's also possible that unethical developers are attempting to cash in on the crisis, pushing out very simple apps that contain little information at all, and are mostly a means of showing ads or convincing worried users to sign up for premium features.

Stopping the spread

Google isn't the only tech company stepping in to curb the spread of misleading information about the virus. 

Last year, Pinterest decided to intervene when users search for information about vaccinations and cancer, showing only information from reputable medical publications. It's now taken the same approach with coronavirus, showing a set of information cards created by the World Health Organization (WHO) offering advice on limiting the spread of the virus.

Facebook is taking a similar approach. Mark Zuckerberg says that the social network is giving WHO free advertising space, and redirecting searches for 'coronavirus' to information from the WHO or a local health authority.

False claims and conspiracy theories will be swiftly removed, and anyone trying to exploit the situation by advertising miracle cures will find their accounts blocked.

Coronavirus warning on Twitter

(Image credit: Twitter)

Twitter isn't going so far as to block content, and a search for the virus brings up tweets containing all sorts of false information (including a tutorial on making an effective face mask using a piece of toilet paper and rubber bands).

These are preceded by a notification box marked 'Know the facts' with a link to a verified local health provider, but the site might choose to follow Google and Facebook's example, and tighten up its policy in the coming weeks.