Croatia, where I live, reported its first coronavirus case Feb. 25. Since then, 68 more people have been infected, according to the U.S. Embassy in Croatia.
To keep track of the spread of the disease, I often visit official web pages, especially those of our government, as well as this amazing global outbreak tracker. However, I wish there were something better: An app that could let me know when a new patient is admitted and where — so I can steer clear.
One such app was created in South Korea by a local developer who wanted to visualize available official information, as well as add useful options. At press time, there were 8,320 active cases of COVID-19 in South Korea. The Corona 100m app, as its name implies, alerts users if they breach a 100-meter (328-foot) radius of the latest tracked whereabouts of the coronavirus patient. Since its launch, the app has been downloaded more than 1 million times, and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
One would think that having apps and resources that provide information like this available to the public would be a good thing, but sadly, that’s not always the case. Many new apps on Apple’s AAPL, +4.40% App Store and Alphabet’s GOOG, +3.27% GOOGL, +4.20% Google Play Store have cropped up, trying to capitalize on the panic and spreading misinformation among the public.
That has pushed Apple to crack down on such apps, limiting approval only to those published by recognized institutions, such as governments, hospitals or the World Health Organization (WHO). Alphabet is taking a somewhat different approach, it seems. Aside from banning apps, as Apple has, Alphabet has also removed “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” from its search results, while creating a special page within the Play Store that provides access to apps developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Red Cross and Twitter TWTR, +1.83%.
The crackdown isn’t limited to apps: Amazon AMZN, +7.03% is trying to weed out products that claim to provide a cure or protection against the coronavirus and COVID-19, as well as limit price gouging of protective gear such as face masks. Prices of those items have tripled and quadrupled in response to the buying frenzy incited by global panic. Amazon urged sellers to comply with its Fair Pricing Policy, and the company last week banned two brothers who sought to resell 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer.
Facebook FB, +2.34%, Instagram and Twitter have started swinging the ban hammer on misleading ads, especially those that claim to provide goods that can prevent or cure the illness, as well as those designed to incite panic to gain views. Fear-mongering and misinformation-stifling isn’t limited to ads, according to Facebook reps, who said content is monitored as well.
While those measures are commendable and almost necessary in an age where social media rules (and is by and large responsible for) the flow of global information, one can’t but wonder what would happen if those same social media giants abused their power and facilitated a different flow of (mis)information and apps concerning any topic they deem valuable for their own ends?
I guess it’s good that the gods of tech and social media have chosen to be on our side in this time of turmoil.
Jurica Dujmovic is a MarketWatch columnist.