Self-censorship now required of Google Play apps

Google has removed Gab‘s Android application from the Google Play store. This was done “as a policy strike because it [the app] violates the hate speech policy.” Google Play’s hate speech policy is this:

We don’t allow apps that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Gab is a social network app. As a platform and a tool, it cannot advocate for anything or against anyone: only its users can, and some have been reported to practice hate speech, as defined by Google. It seems that Google reads “apps that advocate against groups” as shorthand for “apps that are used for such advocacy.”

To some degree, even Twitter is used to these ends, but Twitter practices internal censorship while Gab does not, out of principle. By analogy, it appears that Gab would be allowed back onto Google Play if the app’s creators were committed to minimizing hate speech broadcast via the network.

In other words, Google’s hate speech rule insists on censorship, if still implicitly at this point. Even if a Twitter-like network’s administrator merely asks users to be nice (“or else Google will drop us”), it’s a request for self-censorship. Since it’s not going to work anyway, the admins will either have to censor the content and users via purges and blocks, Twitter-style, or somehow find ideal users that always talk nice. That makes internal censorship a required feature for Twitter-like apps on Google Play.

In effect, Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace. Playing censor, playing government – both made possible by Google’s market power, which, in its turn, makes it susceptible to government regulation.

Susceptible and even vulnerable as they might be, I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets. If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.


  1. Pardon my ignorance but is there no way to download an app to an Android phone (ie. via the web) other than from Google’s play store? I do not use an Android phone so I do not know the answer.

    • Yes, apps can be “sideloaded” onto Android devices. One has to download the app’s .apk file and change the device settings to allow apks to be installed. It’s easy but not as easy as installing straight from Google Play.

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