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Apple rolls out new App Store restrictions in response to COVID-19

Amidst the widespread controls being placed on facets of everyday life across the world, Apple has announced its own restrictions in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The company has today introduced new measures to limit apps on the App Store which disseminate false information, and has introduced ways to expedite the review process so genuine apps providing accurate information about the virus can be published faster than usual.

The tech giant has also banned outright entertainment or game apps which use the coronavirus as a theme or central idea.

The news comes as the company recently closed the doors on all of its Apple stores across the world, except China, in response to the coronavirus.

“The App Store should always be a safe and trusted place for users to download apps,” the company says in a statement released today. 

“Now more than ever that commitment takes on special significance as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Communities around the world are depending on apps to be credible news sources helping users understand the latest health innovations, find out where they can get help if needed or provide assistance to their neighbours.”

The company’s statement reflects on the recent developments in the cybersecurity sphere, where virus-related phishing campaigns are have surged as people scour the internet for information and reassurance about the coronavirus.

Cyber attackers are enticing victims to click on links and attachments within emails which appear as if they are from government or health organisations, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The cybersecurity company Kaspersky recently reported discovering phishing emails that emulated the CDC, in particular from emails containing the domains cdc-gov[.]org and cdcgov[.]org. 

In one instance, the URL contained within a phishing email led to a fake Microsoft Outlook login page, designed to convince victims to input their credentials. 

In another instance, victims were asked to donate Bitcoin to the CDC to aid in the pursuit of a vaccine.

Apple says it will be ramping up efforts to critically evaluate apps to ensure reputable data sources.

The company's new app screening will ‘ensure’ developers wishing to submit an app relating in any way to COVID-19 are from recognised entities, such as government organisations, health-focused NGO’s or medical and educational institutions.

The company also announced its intention to get apps which come from these recognised entities to receive special treatment so that they can arrive on the App Store quickly.

“We understand the need to get these apps into the hands of customers as soon as possible,” says Apple’s official statement.

“We encourage developers that meet this criteria to select ‘Time-Sensitive Event’ on the expedite request form to ensure prioritised review since AppStore review may take longer.”