Google Play Store policies adapt to COVID-19 pandemic

Smartphones have become an essential part of modern life but getting stuck at home made them even more critical. But as more and more people rely on the Internet and mobile devices, the importance of keeping these places safe from not just malware but also misinformation is becoming just as critical. Responding to the global situation, Google is making a few changes to its Google Play rules, especially when it comes to apps that relate to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

It's tragic and disappointing but also unsurprising that there will always be people who will try to exploit a situation either to their benefit or for their entertainment, often at the expense of others. Even in a great tragedy like this current pandemic, there will sites and apps that will offer misleading or even harmful information.

To prevent the spread of such apps, Google is implementing a special rule for any Android app the references COVID-19 or related terms in their store listing. If the app is not from a government entity or public health organization, it will not be approved for listing on Google Play Store. Unfortunately, that will also bar well-meaning third-party apps that try to provide the same information from the same sources in a different way or presentation.

Google is also warning developers that app reviews will take longer than usual, potentially 7 days or more. This is due to Google's own reduced workforce who will now have to handle the same amount of load with fewer people available. This, however, seems to only apply to apps that require a manual app review though the situations that warrant that are not entirely set in stone either.

At the same time, Google is also giving developers a bit more voice when they suddenly find their apps "review bombed" for inappropriate or even incorrect reviews. They can flag one-star reviews that are not related to the app's actual experience so that some group of people, like kids, won't be able to bomb, for example, a distance learning app just because they don't like the idea of having to continue their education at home.