The US based tech giant Google is again in the spotlight after users reported a number of apps peddling radical extremist propaganda against India on its Google Play Store. A few apps namely, “2020 Sikh Referendum” with links to Khalastani terrorism, “Ghazwa-e-Hind”, radical Islamic literature on Islamic conquest of India and a few others were identified by users as spreading anti-India propaganda on Google’s official app store. Facing severe wrath on social media, users are now demanding that such apps must be taken off the Google platform with immediate effect, nonetheless these developments certainly raise sharp questions on the importance given to public security on Google’s platform. The app ‘2020 Sikh Referendum’ available on Google’s app store reportedly talks about the Sikh Referendum-2020, which is being planned by Pakistani extremist establishment along with US-based radical group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in support of a separate state of Khalistan; the app has so far received more than 500 downloads.
Now, Anti India propaganda 'Khalistan' is on Google Play Store.
How can Google Play, Google Play Dev allow Radicalization on its platform?
Is @NIA_India aware of it?
This '2020 Sikh Referendum' app is radicalizing youth for Khalistan against India pic.twitter.com/ZzvUxewUFu
— Neha Sharma 🇮🇳 (@karmabhumi_) November 7, 2019
Hello @Google It’s shocking & beyond belief that your @GooglePlay store giving platform to a ideology of terrorism,violence & radicalisation- Ghazwa-e-Hind@PMOIndia Govt of India MUST ban it immediately🙏@NIA_India@HMOIndia @CyberDost
Friends,Pl report to Google👏 pic.twitter.com/SyTJ2dFJVu
— Major Surendra Poonia (@MajorPoonia) November 5, 2019
However for Google this is not the first time it is being called out for working against the interest of its users. These apps surfacing on the Google Play Store is certainly a striking example in this regard. The lacklustre policy of the tech company has facilitated a number of apps containing spyware, malware or apps designed for such nefarious purposes on its official platform. Recently cyber security researchers had identified more than 1,600 vulnerabilities in the support ecosystem behind the top 5,000 free apps available in the Google Play Store. These security bugs could allow hackers to break into databases that include personal information – and ultimately into users’ mobile devices.
Google’s top competitor Apple is certainly a few steps ahead when it comes to controlling its digital environment. Apple Play Store, the official app store for Apple has evidently preserved its environment from apps with such adverse purposes. Apple’s pricing strategy in this regard has also been beneficial to keep away non-genuine developers from sharing their creations on the platform. Google on the other hand while providing for easy publishing of apps on its platform has surely failed to provide the requisite countermeasures to avert such incidents where extremists have been using its platform to spread radical propaganda. This has also led a way for apps with illegal pornographic content on its platform.
Moreover, the app store fees also matter and both Google and Apple have different fees for app developers. For Apple, a developer has to pay $99 per year whereas for Google, a developer has to pay a one-time fee of $25 only. The massive difference in fee structure between Google and Apple is also one of the reasons for the huge difference in quality of the apps. The one time fee plan of Google has led to users who have ulterior motives other than create quality apps to develop apps that have flooded the store. This ‘free for all’ attitude of Google has led to the creation of apps that are not only questionable but also a threat to the security of user information.
For Google however the issues are far deeper rooted that just the security environment on its app platform. Recently US lawmaker and Presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard had also accused the California based tech giant of trying to ‘silence her’. In the lawsuit filed, Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign committee had alleged that Google violated the Hawaii congresswoman, right to free speech. The lawsuit also added that Google did not provide “a straight answer” for suspending Tulsi Gabbard’s ads account.
“Google’s discriminatory actions against my campaign are reflective of how dangerous their complete dominance over internet search is, and how the increasing dominance of big tech companies over our public discourse threatens our core American values,” Tulsi Gabbard had said in a statement. She also pointed how this suspension had essentially curbed her free speech.“This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”
These developments certainly raises questions on the conduct of tech companies like Google and their iron grip over a large part of digital ecosystem. Earlier Facebook was also caught involved in a huge data scandal, and was fined $ 5 billion for practices such as the inadvertent exposure of up to 87 million users’ information to the political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica. Google too too was fined by European Union regulators for 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for abusing its dominant role in online advertising and now extremists apps being found on the digital giant’s platform is certainly worrying trend.