Google and Apple have chosen to support only coronavirus-related applications that obtain some form of institutional support. The publication policy in both the App Store and Google Play, although with a small nuance between the two, makes it clear that exclusively private initiatives are out of the question. “We only approve apps that refer to the Covid-19 or related terms in their store listing if the app is published, commissioned, or authorized by an official government entity or public health organization, and the app does not contain any monetization mechanisms. ”Summarizes Sam Tolomei, head of business development at Google Play.
In the case of Apple, which has not answered the questions raised, those that come from NGOs and academic institutions are also valid. He explains on his website that his position is only intended to ensure the credibility and security of all information related to the pandemic. He adds on this same page that, in such an exceptional situation, “communities around the world depend on applications to be credible news sources, help users understand the latest innovations in health, discover where to get help and offer assistance your neighbors. "
The stance of the two great technologies comes at a frantic moment for the application market, particularly for those that track down possible infections. They have made the leap from Asia to the rest of the continents in just two months. They are called to become one more health measure, such as hand washing or interpersonal distance, in order to contain a flare-up in the coming months. The initiatives come from diverse fronts, both public and corporate. However, most companies have come across a discouraging inbox email - your app has been suspended and removed.
Google explains in this communication the following steps that must be followed if they want to appear on Google Play. Differentiate two assumptions. The first, if they do not have any type of institutional support, they can only delete references and words related to the coronavirus. The second, in which there is government support, opens a new scenario where respect for privacy walks a very narrow path. “Submit valid proofs to verify the identity of your organization. Also, if parts of your application are restricted based on login credentials, members, location or other forms of authentication, be sure to provide valid test credentials so that Google can review your app, ”he claims in these emails.
Apart from access to data collected by third parties, Apple and Google have also developed their own infection control system. An unprecedented collaboration that they have put at the service of the national health authorities in order to create these tracking apps. With the information provided by other companies to appear in mobile stores, they have access to other approaches that may have been overlooked or are more effective. The pilots and models known so far broadly share the same characteristics, such as bluetooth operation, the voluntary introduction of the positive result of the Covid-19 test and the impossibility of personal identification thanks to random number codes.
Public money for private initiatives
To overcome the limitations, the public sector collaborates as much as possible. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology, for example, has launched a € 60 million call for innovative companies to develop high-impact solutions to the coronavirus. It is not just about contributing financially, but also providing that institutional seal that leads to an app in stores. Precisely, one of the arguments of the technology companies to justify this policy is the prevention of possible profit and fraud. Although they did not want to provide specific data on the number of applications withdrawn and prohibited, the environment is very competitive and complicates their work. According to a Ditrendia study, last year 258 billion applications were downloaded worldwide.
The health emergency has revealed that the course of innovation has returned to civil society. Apple and Google have opted to avoid shocks or bad practices, protect themselves under the institutional umbrella; But there is the example of the maker movement with 3D printing and artificial respirators. Tracking apps are at a similar point. The organizations have stepped on the accelerator and are trying to contribute their solution to forced marches. The most that Tolomei explains is that he will continue to adopt measures to limit the changes and the barriers that he has erected because the companies are already suffering enough.
None of the big tech clarifies how long it will maintain the restrictions or what those changes that are supposed to come in the coming weeks will take place. The only certainty, if any, during a global pandemic is that different contagion tracking applications will emerge. In the midst of this context, more details still need to be refined, such as connection protocols, the level of data protection or if there will only be one per country. Still, different companies have already requested that the modifications appear sooner rather than later. While they solve it, they will keep calling the institutions to help them out.