Google is offering multiple products on its Play Store promoting the QAnon and “plandemic” conspiracy theories, even though they seemingly violate the platform’s rules. Most of the products appear to have been added within the last 10 months, and Google is making money off of most of them.
QAnon has been tied to multiple violent incidents, and government agencies have issued internal warnings over the false conspiracy theory. Multiple QAnon adherents also participated in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol.
The “plandemic” conspiracy theory went viral on social media in May 2020 due to a video with the same title. The false conspiracy theory claims the coronavirus pandemic was purposely caused by certain actors as some part of a nefarious scheme.
Google’s Play Store policies seem to prohibit content or applications promoting or including these conspiracy theories. Google’s App and Book policies prohibit content on the Play Store that could incite violence, and the company has previously banned QAnon apps on the Play Store for “misleading or harmful information.” Although its policy does not explicitly reference books, Google’s Play Store also prohibits “all apps offering COVID-19 related content” that “contain or perpetuate … conspiracy theories, misleading claims, ‘miracle cures’ or dangerous treatments, or any patently false or unverifiable information pertaining to COVID-19 (including authorities coordinating COVID-19 response), regardless of app categorization.”
Despite Google’s rules, a Media Matters review found multiple products on the Play Store promoting the QAnon and “plandemic” conspiracy theories. Almost none of these products appear to have been available for purchase or download before November 2020.
One product, an app called Radio Qanon, appears to be Romanian and describes itself in that language as “a radio addressed to patriots everywhere with music for all tastes, join our community and be a true patriot, don't forget we also have a dedication program!” The app was apparently “updated” this past March and has been downloaded at least 500 times. The Play Store page for Radio Qanon features an image of a flaming letter “Q,” and the app’s website openly pushes QAnon. It is one of the very first apps listed on Play Store when searching “qanon.” (The app’s site also lists its Facebook page which explicitly promotes QAnon, despite Facebook’s supposed crackdown on the conspiracy theory.)
The other products found in the review are books, which users pay to order from the Play Store -- and Google takes a cut of the revenue for these products.
One book is called QANON: How the Deep State Control Your Mind. The Battle Against Conspiracy Theory. The New World Order; Illuminati Hijacked The World. The Great Awakening! The Story Behind Trump, Obama and others. The product, which is being sold on the Play Store both as an ebook (published in April) and as an audiobook (published last November), claims in its product description: “Q wants you to be informed. He wants you to know what is happening in the world around you, and he wants you to see through the blatant lies that mainstream media is trying to force-feed you.” It is also one of the first books listed when searching “qanon” on Google’s Play Store, even ahead of one actually reporting on and debunking the conspiracy theory.
The Play Store also offers an ebook called Win the Fight 2020, which is listed as having come out in March and includes in its product description the QAnon slogan, “where we go one, we go all,” or “WWG1WGA” for short.
A search for “plandemic” on the Play Store also finds multiple ebooks pushing the conspiracy theory. One upcoming ebook to be released in August, called Plandemic: The Incredible True Story about the Most Banned Documentary in History, is written by the director of the Plandemic video. Its product description promises “an exposé of the truth behind the origins of COVID-19” and “an alarming examination of individuals … driving the global vaccination agenda.”
Another ebook listed in the Play Store, called Plandemic: Exposing the Greed, Corruption, and Fraud Behind the COVID-19 Pandemic, claims in its product description, “This pandemic didn’t come about by chance. It was a carefully orchestrated and planned event—a plandemic.”
Another ebook available through the Play Store, listed as being published last December, is called The Reset -- a reference to the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory “about an authoritarian socialist world government run by powerful capitalists and politicians.” Its product description claims, “The second thing is that the not so coincidental Covid-19 Plandemic gives these psychopaths the opportunity to try out some controlling and political psychological operations on the general population.” The book has multiple chapters calling COVID-19 and the coronavirus a “hoax” (along with chapters titled “Rothschild Zionism and the New World Order” and “Jewish and Zionist influence on Freemasonry”).
And yet another ebook, this one in Spanish and published last November, is called PLANDEMIA 2020: Toda la verdad sobre el plan de exterminio mundial, or “Plandemic 2020: The whole truth about the world extermination plan.”
The presence of these products on the Play Store -- and Google’s profiting from them -- fits with the company’s pattern of struggling to enforce its own rules against misinformation and violent conspiracy theory content. Previously, Google had failed to remove multiple apps on the Play Store dedicated to sharing Q posts, and took months to remove them even after Media Matters reported on them. And other apps promoting QAnon were still offered on the Play Store afterward along with apps promoting conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, which Google had also claimed to ban. Despite clear signs that the conspiracy theory content on its Play Store was a problem, Google only removed some of those apps after Media Matters’ reporting.