Google may pull 'fediverse' Android apps for allegedly enabling hate speech (updated)

Critics say Google is blocking innocent discussions in the process.

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BRAZIL - 2020/01/13: In this photo illustration the Google Play (Play Store) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Google has stepped up its fight against hate speech, but there are concerns that it might be too aggressive. As Private Internet Access reports, Google has warned it will pull multiple “fediverse” apps (groups of interconnected servers used for web publishing) from the Play Store for allegedly inciting hate speech. Android titles like Fedilab, Husky, and Subway Tooter purportedly help users connect to user-generated hate content that incites discrimination.

Critics have claimed that Google is overreaching. The apps require you to type in an address to visit a given fediverse, according to Eugen, a developer behind the fediverse-based social network Mastodon. In theory, this isn’t much different than pulling a web browser for the potential to visit hate websites. The servers hosting the content are responsible, Eugen said, not the clients you use to access those servers.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

An action like this isn’t completely surprising. Some fediverses are popular among hate groups kicked out of mainstream social networks or denied access to key services. Gab, a social network that developed a reputation for tolerating hate speech, switched to a fediverse using a forked version of Mastodon after losing its hosting provider, PayPal access and other tools it used to keep running. It’s not certain if Google is focused on Gab, but Gab might be a target.

At the same time, there’s a concern Google may hurt innocent bystanders and overlook efforts by fediverses to keep hate speech off their platforms. Mastodon’s operators balked at Gab’s move and blocked domains to prevent interactions, while some Mastodon apps also block Gab. These apps aren’t necessarily havens for bigots, and it’s not clear that Google is recognizing the differences between apps.

Update 8/29 3:05PM ET: We’ve double-checked and the apps are still present on the Play Store. We’ve updated the story accordingly.

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