Juha Saarinen: Adios app store anti-vaxxers

OPINION:

Reading about the government’s proposed vaccine record or passport I decided to have a quick look at the Apple iOS App Store to see what was in there already.

A chunky selection of hits showed when you search for “vaccine record”, under the Medical category, with apps aimed at different parts of the world than New Zealand.

Scrolling down the list of results, I spotted an app that talked about “vaccine reactions” with a free and a $6.99 version, from the same small United States developer.

I was piqued. That’s not at all what I had been looking for, and yes, the screenshot suggested it was an anti-vaxx app. I downloaded the app, which is terrible at every level from the look to the functionality, including the excruciatingly bad “avoid the syringes” game… and yes, it was an anti-vaxx app.

Even as a cynical, rubbish adware app, it was bad enough to warrant some kvetching to Apple. Starting with iOS 15 apparently you can now report problematic apps. However, it means downloading and installing them first, and then deciding that they’re scammy and reporting them.

Which is kind of fair enough, but when the screenshots in the App Store blare out that this app is most likely dangerous nonsense, a “could you review this?” button would be good.

The app itself hasn’t had many downloads at all, and looks like abandonware. I couldn’t find any other similar ones, not that I looked very thoroughly.

Swapping to an Android phone, I found the same developer and apps in Google’s Play Store. It was also a bit worse on the other side of the fence as the Play Store still has the Unjected app available.

Now, Unjected is a bit old hat, having been busted by overseas media late August. It’s supposedly something along the lines of Tinder and social network for the unvaccinated, which is about as dystopian and weird as it gets really.

Soon after news of the app broke, Apple did the right thing and unceremoniously dumped Unjected from their App Store. There was quite a bit of publicity around it at the time, and it’s hard to see how Unjected survived Google’s Android Play Store review.

Because this isn’t about providing “an opposing view” or whatever. A different viewpoint can indeed be valuable when approaching a problem in good faith, to solve it. That is in fact how many important scientific discoveries happen.

Spreading lies and fear through rubbish statements that Covid-19 vaccines dangerously “release spike proteins” only serve to hurt you, family, friends and society however. There Unjected is though, with some of the text as graphics, presumably to fox Google’s automated scanning systems.

The question that immediately springs to mind is how did the above apps make into the app stores in the first place? Not just that, but into the Medical section as well. Sure, the “reactions” app didn’t mention Covid-19 as it predates the pandemic but Unjected certainly does.

How did the apps get through the initial reviews and why did the store algorithms serve them up when I looked for unrelated ones?

Small as the above may seem, it’s important to note that iOS and Android App Stores are meant to be highly trusted by users. Apple makes it close to impossible to get software from anywhere else. Google a bit less so, but you still have to explicitly allow app installations from non-Play Store sources. It shouldn’t be that you look for legit apps, and get pointed towards crapware.

This would seem to be an obvious policy that should’ve been applied right from the get-go, but it wasn’t, which is surprising. Here’s hoping Apple and Google will take a look at their rules, and apply some common sense.

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