Google is making money off of multiple apps in its Google Play Store that promote the QAnon conspiracy theory, even though Google prohibits apps that can incite violence and an FBI field office has listed the conspiracy theory -- multiple adherents of which have committed violent acts -- as a potential domestic terrorism threat.
Google, which runs the Google Play Store, lists a section among “restricted content” on its developer policy center that says, “We don't allow apps with content related to terrorism, such as content that promotes terrorist acts, incites violence, or celebrates terrorist attacks.” Yet a review by Media Matters found multiple apps on the Play Store that support QAnon.
QAnon, which revolves around an anonymous account known as “Q,” started on far-right message board site 4chan. It later moved to fellow far-right message board site 8chan, which has since relaunched as 8kun. (Beyond the QAnon conspiracy theory, 8chan/8kun has been linked to multiple instances of white supremacist terrorism, including the 2019 massacre in El Paso, Texas.) The “Q” account’s claim -- and the conspiracy theory's premise -- is that President Donald Trump was working with then-special counsel Robert Mueller to take down the president’s perceived enemies, the “deep state,” and pedophiles. Multiple adherents to the conspiracy theory have been tied to acts of violence, including multiple murders and an attempted kidnapping. Last May, an FBI field office released a memo that listed QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat.
On Google’s Play Store, there are currently at least four apps promoting the conspiracy theory. Two of the apps cost money to download, and under current policy, Google gets a cut of every app download.
One app, called “QMAP,” is an app for one of the main sites that collect “Q” posts. (A QAnon-supporting woman arrested for attempted kidnaping appeared to have bracelets promoting the site.) The app is listed for $2.99, is tagged as “News & Magazines,” has more than 5,000 downloads, and is currently listed as the #2 “Top Paid” app among “News & Magazines” apps. Another app, called “Q Alerts!,” is also listed for $2.99 and has more than 10,000 downloads; it was also recently listed as the #3 “Top Paid” app among “News & Magazines” apps. (There is also a free version of Q Alerts! on the Play Store called “Q Alerts LITE,” which is also listed under “News & Magazines” and has more than 10,000 downloads. Another free app listed under “News & Magazines,” called “Quanon,” translates QAnon-related information into Spanish and has more than 500 downloads.)
Other listings also show the apps to be popular: Both “QMAP” and “Q Alerts!” are listed among the top 100 “Top Grossing” apps among “News & Magazines” apps on Play Store, and one or both is making more money than apps for legitimate news outlets such as The Indianapolis Star, The Fresno Bee, Der Spiegel, The Baltimore Sun, and The Des Moines Register. Additionally, the web analytics firm SimilarWeb’s “usage rank” placed the QMAP and Q Alerts! apps at #13 and #8, respectively, among “News & Magazines” apps in the past month.
This is not the first time apps promoting the conspiracy theory have popped up on Play Store: In 2018, NBC News reported that another QAnon app, “QDrops,” was being sold on both the Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Apple in response removed the app (and possibly other QAnon apps), telling NBC it would “remove any apps that violate our guidelines or the law.” (Apple’s current app guidelines prohibit any app with “content that encourages violence.”) Google did not remove the app from the Play Store at the time, but the app is now no longer available there either.
Despite Apple’s apparent prohibition of QAnon apps on its store, the makers of the QMAP and Q Alerts! apps have suggested ways to use Apple’s App Store to get QAnon content via other apps. Last July, Qappanon, the creator of QMAP, posted on its Patreon page a list of “steps” in order to “use the qmap mobile app on iOS” (Apple’s mobile operating system), starting with downloading a non-QAnon app to get to it. And the site for the Q Alerts! app features a section showing how to get the app via another non-QAnon app on Apple’s App Store, calling it an “iOS solution.”
Update (2/6/20): This piece has been updated with additional information.