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Google finally approves Trump’s Truth Social app for Play Store: here’s why the delay was strange

Google hadn’t approved Trump’s Truth Social app for distribution on Play Store earlier because of unsatisfactory content moderation

Google has finally approved Truth Social on Android Play Store, Trump Media & Technology Group, the company behind the platform, said in a press release dated October 12.

The app was earlier no allowed due to insufficient content moderation policies (story below). It’s not clear what changes Truth Social made to its moderation policies, but Axios noted that “As a part of the agreement to be allowed in the Google Play Store, Truth Social had to commit to enforcing its own website policies that forbid things like inciting violence.”

Original Story (September 1): Why Apple App Store allowed Trump’s Truth Social app but Google Play Store won’t

Google hasn’t yet approved Trump’s Truth Social app for distribution on Android via its Play Store because of insufficient content moderation, Axios reported on August 30. An unnamed source told Axios that Google’s concerns relate to content such as physical threats and incitements to violence. And, “because Truth Social isn’t available on Android operating systems, around 44% of U.S. smartphone users can’t download it,” Axios added.

As an example of such type of content, Axios cited a response to a post from former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn from an account called “TheVictim24,” which reads: “It’s be nice if you people weren’t just okay with the military and police stage a rebellion and framing civilians. Zero people trust the police and if the military comes in, we’ll kill them. Someone admit this nation needs to be nuked because it’s satanic. (sic)”

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“On Aug. 19, we notified Truth Social of several violations of standard policies in their current app submission and reiterated that having effective systems for moderating user-generated content is a condition of our terms of service for any app to go live on Google Play,” a Google spokesperson told Axios. In response, Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), the company behind Truth Social, stated in a press release that they “have worked in good faith with Google” and will comply with “Google’s policies without compromising our promise to be a haven for free speech.”

But why does Apple App Store allow it: While Google has not allowed Truth Social, Apple not only approved the iOS version of the app but in the week of its launch in February 2022, the app topped the charts on the App Store.

  • This is a bit strange given that Apple is known to be more strict when it comes to app moderation compared to Google’s Play Store.
  • Like Google, Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines also prohibit apps that have “objectionable content” such as content meant to “discriminate” or “harm a targeted individual or group” or is “mean-spirited.” In the past, Apple has used these grounds to remove conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s InfoWars app and temporarily suspend social media platform Parler, which many Trump followers flocked to after the former president was banned from Twitter.
  • Possible reasons why Apple might have allowed the app could be 1) free speech grounds, which the company prides itself on being a proponent of, 2) to avoid any lash back from the US right, who already complain that tech companies have a pro-left bias, or 3) Apple is convinced that Truth Social is doing enough to moderate content, which is what the platform has claimed in its press release published yesterday: “As our users know, Truth Social is building a vibrant, family-friendly environment that works expeditiously to remove content that violates its Terms of Service – which independent observers have noted are among the most robust in the industry,” TMTG remarked.
  • But Apple’s acceptance has not been without resistance. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, for one, had written to Apple CEO Tim Cook in April asking for the app to be removed from App Store because “it provides the former president and his allies an opportunity to continue their attacks on American democracy and promotion of violent extremism.” “Every company that now enters into business with Trump must recognize that it is essentially endorsing this dangerous and anti-democratic conduct,” the letter read. “That alone should be enough reason to remove the Truth Social platform from the App Store.”
  • And ever since the news of Google’s denial emerged, there have been renewed calls for Apple to also pull the app. “Dear Apple: Please remove Truth Social as a supported App on your platform,” Pam Keith, CEO of Center for Employment Justice, tweeted.

The power that Apple and Google hold over key digital gateways: The former US president launched Truth Social after he was banned from popular social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook for because of concerns that he could spark violence following the January 6 Capital Riots. If Trump believed that by owning an app he and his supporters can say whatever they want, they appear to be mistaken. Google Play Store and Apple App Store continue to be the ultimate gatekeepers.

  • “Look, everybody is beholden to them because they have a monopoly on those markets,” Devin Nunes, CEO of Trump Media and Technology Group, told Real America’s Voice, referring to Apple and Google.
  • Truth Social can offer the Android app via its website or third-party app stores because this is allowed on Android, unlike on Apple’s iOS, but the platform has not done so, and it is understandable why because Play Store remains the most popular option for Android users to discover and download an app.
  • This brings up one of the most crucial concerns of our times, the power that Google and Apple hold in deciding who gets to reach its users and what should and can be done about it. These two platforms together corner over 90% of the smartphone market and they can make or break a platform or company because of the stranglehold they have over the key content distribution channels i.e. the app stores.
  • Regulators around the world including the US, the UK, South Africa, South Korea, Russia, and India are probing the conduct of Apple and Google, specifically related to their app store policies.  The investigations are focused on excessive commissions, unilateral terms and conditions, mandatory use of in-app payment systems, non-transparent app review processes, unfair use of data to build competing apps etc.
  • Truth Social, for example, has alleged double standards in its response to Google: “Some of our competitors’ apps are allowed in the Google Play Store despite rampantly violating Google’s prohibition on sexual content and other policies, whereas Truth Social has zero tolerance for sexually explicit content,” the platform said. Truth Social’s statement appears to be a veiled reference to the child pornography problem plaguing its nemesis Twitter, which gained attention over the last few days after The Verge published a damning report about the issue.

Update (13 October, 10:25 am): The story and headline have been updated after Google’s approval.

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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