Google Play Store Fail lets Taliban App Slip Through

Google unintentionally showed why Apple maintains the App Store's walled garden after it was alerted to a Taliban-made propaganda app on the Play Store. Of course Google pulled it down, but the point is that the Taliban was able to publish and sell its app to Android phone users because there wasn't a screening process in place to catch it earlier.

Oops! Google lets Taliban propaganda app on Play StoreOops! Google lets Taliban propaganda app on Play Store

The app, called Alemarah, was spotted by SITE Intelligence Group who alerted Google last Friday, according to CNN Money. It served as a propaganda tool letting users watch Taliban videos and read news about the group.

Alemarah was pulled after SITE pointed it out, but the fact that it was there at all underlies a major difference in how Google and Apple screen apps for their stores. Where Apple has a more in-depth screening process new and updated apps face before they appear on the App Store, Google has a much more lax screening process—lax enough that a propaganda app for a radical terrorist group was able to pass through unnoticed.

While Apple has had some embarrassing moments, like InstaAgent which collected Instagram user names and passwords, Google's own Play app store has hosted many Android malware apps and until last year didn't have proactive screening. Google Play's current system does catch some threats and apps that violate the store's terms of service, but clearly leaves some pretty big holes for developers to walk through.

Google confirmed it pulled the app for violating store policies, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told Bloomberg his group removed it to fix "technical issues." Presumably those issues included Google finding out about the app and banning it from Google Play.

The app also makes it clear the Taliban is embracing technology in new ways to help promote its cause. With apps like Alemarah showing up, Apple and Google both need to watch even closer for terrorist-spawned apps promoting hate and violence.

Google's comparatively lax screening process makes for some great schadenfreude for iPhone users, but it doesn't mean they're totally safe inside the App Store's walled garden. Bad apps have slipped through before, and they'll likely slip though again.

The big takeaway here is that Google and Apple both need to be more vigilant. Google's screening team no doubt has learned from the Alemarah app incident, and hopefully Apple has, too.