June 23, 2016
Controversy raged this week over news that the Google Play store had allowed a free mobile game that promised players could “live like a real Jew” at Auschwitz.
For the second time in a month, Google’s review process was brought into serious question. But now, the game’s creators have come forward to say that was the point of the game.
TRINIT, a vocational school teaching video game design in Zaragoza, Spain, asked their students to design games that would test the strength of Google’s policy on hateful speech and inappropriate imagery during the review process, the institute told The Forward in an email.
“Surprisingly, Google denied almost all of the test apps, but [the Auschwitz game] was approved,” the institute said.
TRINIT said it pulled the game, which it said was nonfunctional and only included a start page, on Sunday night after realizing it had sparked media controversy. The institute said it received a notice from Google later that night notifying it that the app had been reported several times. Google confirmed to the Forward that the app was pulled from its store on Monday.
In addition to its Auschwitz game, TRINIT said it chose to pull other test apps from Google Play, including apps named “Gay Buttons” and “Kamasutra Dices.”
The school said it instructed students to test Google’s app policy by specifically testing themes corresponding to questions on a Google survey used in the app approval process. One question on the survey, shared with the Forward by TRINIT, asks whether the app under review contains symbols or references to Nazis.
Although the school said it replied yes to the survey question, Google still approved the submission.
A Google spokesperson said, “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we can confirm that our policies are designed to provide a great experience for users and developers.”
“This clearly indicates that Google needs to be more vigilant about its review process,” said Jonathan Vick, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League’s cyberhate response team.
However, Vick also finds blame with the way TRINIT conducted its experiment and remains skeptical of the app’s true purpose. Vick told the Forward it concerns him that the school felt it was sufficient to take down the offensive app without issuing a statement, and he called on the school to explain itself in public.
“Review is a human process and any time people are injected into the equation, the margin for error increases,” Vick said. “Since the Google review process isn’t transparent, we don’t know where in the review chain someone approved the app, but it means more training might be needed for Google employees,” he said.
“If real, the experiment speaks for itself,” Vick said.
Google launched a new app review process last year with the goal of catching apps that violate its policies on hateful speech before they reach the Google Play store, including both machine and human review elements. However, the company is still in the process of fine-tuning the process and relies heavily upon community reporting to review the millions of game submissions it receives.