Pandemic platform governance: Mapping the global ecosystem of COVID-19 response apps

How have app stores governed the global app response to the coronavirus pandemic? An exploratory systematic mapping of COVID-19 pandemic response apps – A new open access article by Michael Dieter, Anne Helmond, Nathaniel Tkacz, Fernando van der Vlist, and Esther Weltevrede in Internet Policy Review.

Figure 3: Geographical distribution of [COVID-19]-related Android apps by country or region. Illustration: authors and DensityDesign Lab.

Abstract

This article provides an exploratory systematic mapping of the global ecosystem of COVID-19 pandemic response apps. After considering policy updates by Google Play’s and Apple’s App Store, we analyse all the available response apps in July 2020; their different response types; the apps’ developers and geographical distribution; the ecosystem’s ‘generativity’ and developers’ responsiveness during the unfolding pandemic; the apps’ discursive positioning; and material conditions of their development. Google and Apple are gatekeepers of these app ecosystems and exercise control on different layers, shaping the pandemic app response as well as the relationships between governments, citizens, and other actors. We suggest that this global ecosystem of pandemic responses reflects an exceptional mode of what we call ‘pandemic platform governance’, where platforms have negotiated their commercial interests and the public interest in exceptional circumstances.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Giovanni Lombardi, Angeles Briones, Gabriele Colombo, and Matteo Bettini (DensityDesign Lab) for their assistance with some of the graphics included in this article. Thanks also to Jason Chao and Stijn Peeters for their assistance in developing the Google Play and App Store scrapers for this study, and to Jason for uploading the Android application package (APK) files to the Internet Archive’s ‘COVID-19_Apps’ collection.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are openly available in the Open Science Framework (OSF) at https://doi.org/10.17605/osf.io/wq3dr. Additionally, the available Android application package (APK) files of the COVID-19 Android apps covered in this study are openly available and preserved in the ‘COVID-19_Apps’ collection of the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/COVID-19_Apps.

Figure 5: Responsivity of [COVID-19]-related app developers by country (Android only), 2013 – August 2020. Circles are initial releases (i.e., app launches); squares are any additional releases (i.e., app updates); scaled by the total number of releases. Data: App Annie. Illustration: authors and DensityDesign Lab.

Read the full article: Dieter M, Helmond A, Tkacz N, van der Vlist FN, Weltevrede E. (2021) Pandemic platform governance: Mapping the global ecosystem of COVID-19 response apps. Internet Policy Review 10(3). Available at: https://policyreview.info/articles/analysis/pandemic-platform-governance-mapping-global-ecosystem-covid-19-response-apps.

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