Google announced today that it will be removing a controversial “conversion therapy” app from its store after pressure from civil rights groups.
Google was suddenly willing to cooperate on the same day of losing an endorsement from a top LGBTQ rights group over its failure to pull a conversion therapy app.
The controversy around the app came early on. Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all removed the app from their own platforms after Truth Wins Out, an organization opposing conversion therapy, launched their own petition. Then, it became the subject of a Change.org petition with over 142,000 signatures urging Google to remove it.
Previously, Google maintained that the app didn’t violate its Play Store terms of service. Now, Google reportedly told Axios, “After consulting with outside advocacy groups, reviewing our policies, and making sure we had a thorough understanding of the app and its relation to conversion therapy, we’ve decided to remove it from the Play Store, consistent with other app stores.”
It seems as though suspension from the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index was what it took for Google to listen. Previously, Google has scored high on the index, and it’s often used as a recruiting tool.
In the report, HRC noted that it had become aware of the app distributed in the Google Play Store that supported conversion therapy. HRC went on to say conversion therapy has been “rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades.”
“Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide,” HRC wrote in its announcement of the suspension. “Pending remedial steps by the company to address this app that can cause harm to the LGBTQ community the CEI rating is suspended.”
For advocates and members of the LGBTQ community, Google pulling the app is important. Conversion therapy refers to the process of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It can involve shame, emotional trauma, or physical abuse, as outlined by the Trevor Project.
Google shouldn’t be painted as a hero here, though. Clearly, it was the pressure of their suspension from an important index that led to action. Before that, Google allowed the app to remain on its store, despite numerous petitions and other big tech companies removing it.
Tech companies have a responsibility to monitor what is on their platforms. When apps promote something as dangerous as conversion therapy, a company hosting them is seen as a quiet endorsement.
Ultimately, it seems Google only acted when there was a threat to its own bottom line.