Coders aiding Catalonia’s independence push proved to be more nimble than Spain’s regional courts this past weekend, using their understanding of Google’s online app store to get residents to polling places in the illegal referendum marred by violence. The Catalan superior court on Sept. 29 ordered the Google Play marketplace to remove the “1-O Referendum” app, which was created to help Catalans know where to vote two days later. Within hours of the ruling, a similar app with the same name was up and running. By creating a new app, the developers were gaming Google rules and loopholes in arcane legal processes. Faced with a court order, the Alphabet Inc. unit will pull the offending app but won’t go beyond it to look for similar content from different developers. If two different developers produce apps — even two apps that are essentially the same — a court needs to send orders specifying both names. The Catalan court only mentioned the first one.
The court ruling that banned the original app specified that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont had mentioned the app on Sept. 27 on his Twitter account. The court also published a link to its location on Google Play. By election day Oct. 1, a press officer to Puigdemont was promoting the workaround app on his Twitter account, helping residents of the would-be breakaway region defy efforts to stop the vote.
“We take down content from our platforms when we receive a valid court order or when the content infringes terms and conditions of our products and services,” Google said in an emailed statement.