Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible: Google Removes Podcast Addict From Play Store Because It Has COVID-19 Related Podcasts
from the the-fight-against-misinformation-has-consequences dept
Today’s example of the Masnick Impossibility Theorem is quite a doozy. Podcast Addict, a very popular mobile podcast player, says that Google removed its app from the Play Store, supposedly for violating Google’s new rules related to COVID-19. Like pretty much all big internet platforms, Google’s Play Store is trying to combat “misinformation” and “disinformation” about COVID-19. A few months back we saw this issue play out with Google advertisements, in which it was blocking politicians from advertising about the failed response of various elected officials to the pandemic, because it said only “official” government entities could advertise about COVID-19.
In this case, the “problem” seems to be that via Podcast Addict… you can get podcasts about COVID-19:
Here's the notification I got this morning… pic.twitter.com/UJF20ZnaPw
— Podcast Addict (@PodcastAddict) May 16, 2020
As the notice says, the app has been suspended because “apps referencing COVID-19, or related terms, in any form will only be approved for distribution on Google Play if they are published, commissioned, or authorized by official government entities or public health organizations.” But, uh, the app doesn’t “reference” COVID-19. It just had podcasts about it (as, I should note, does Google’s own podcasting app and YouTube).
Podcast Addict has also clarified that it made no mention of COVID-19 in any of its description or keywords. It wasn’t promoting its app as a way to get COVID-19 info (though, even if it did, it seems like that shouldn’t be a problem).
This keyword never did appear on the Play Store app page nor does it appear in the app source code. The app gives access to 3rd party content, which obviously have been talking a lot about COVID-19 in the few weeks
— Podcast Addict (@PodcastAddict) May 18, 2020
So, at the very least, it’s a little perplexing why Google’s Play Store removed the app, but it’s almost certainly yet another example of the Impossibility Theorem: I’m sure that the Play Store has a bunch of people frantically trying to spot and pull down a variety of apps that are spewing dangerous mis- and disinformation (and, rest assured that when they inevitably miss some, reporters and others will quickly call out the company’s “failure” to properly police this stuff). And somehow, the sweep of such apps got Podcast Addict caught up in the mess, most likely because a bunch of podcasts right now are talking about COVID-19, and a few new podcasts have sprung up recently entirely focused on the pandemic. I don’t remember how Podcast Addict works exactly (I had tried it out last year, but went with a different app personally), but it’s likely that it would have parts of its app promoting popular or trending podcasts, and it’s likely that some COVID-19 ones would be in that list. That’s not a good reason to remove such an app (and if it were, a ton of other platform related apps should be pulled too…), but it is at least a possible reason for why it happened.
That’s not a good thing, by any stretch of the imagination, and hopefully Google fixes this quickly. Also, Google could do more to be transparent about how it decided to remove Podcast Addict, and what processes it’s putting in place to avoid those kinds of mistakes in the future. But, again, it’s doing all of this while simultaneously trying to keep other, actually problematic, apps out of its store, because lots and lots of reporters have published stories slamming Google repeatedly for allowing “dangerous” apps in its store in the past.
Meanwhile, in an odd twist, the Google Play Store’s Twitter account responded to Podcast Addict’s Twitter account to suggest they were escalating this issue:
Hi, sorry to hear what happened. Could you please kindly share the appeal ID with us via DM?
Meanwhile, we've escalated your concerns to the relevant team and will let you know the moment we have any updates. #AskPlayDev
— Google Play Apps & Games (@GooglePlayDev) May 18, 2020
Hopefully this gets fixed soon.