TECH

MH17 News Apps Flood Google Play - Some Months BEFORE The Tragedy

18/07/2014 09:13 BST | Updated 18/07/2014 16:59 BST

If you search the Google Play app store today for news on MH17, the passenger jet shot down over Ukraine on Thursday, you might come across an eerie sight.

There are already seven apps dedicated to the disaster - including one released two months ago.

That particular app ('MH17 Live Update') appears top of the Play Store if you search for 'MH17'.

It was released on 24 April 2014 and is produced by Seoul Wedding Express Co. Sadly the mystery it represents is not how this company can predict the future (it can't) but how SEO tactics and first-at-all-costs apps strategies are afflicting Google's app store - and could have darker consequences for anyone installing the app.

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The 'MH17 Live Updates' app does have a legitimate purpose, of course. The app is designed to centralise news on the tragedy, including the 298 lives lost in the disaster and the unfolding political fallout.

Users can search by news source or topic, all while viewing 'Seoul Wedding HD' advertising as they scroll through the tragic news. It has between 1,000 and 5,000 downloads.

But how was the app released so long ago if the plane only crashed on Thursday?

Well, as it turns out there is a simple explanation: the app was actually designed to report on MH370, the Malaysia Airlines jet which disappeared earlier this year and has yet to be recovered from its presumed resting place in the Pacific Ocean. That story was peculiar for its longevity and mystery, and there are dozens of apps dedicated to following its progress. In this case, the developers were able to rename the app without registering the update in Google's store, simply changing the description text.

Unfortunately that description is fairly tactless: it concludes that "together we #PrayForMH17. We hope that they all come back safely" when it has already been established there is no hope of finding survivors.

The app also appears to play on traditional SEO techniques, indicating developers are now rushing to produce apps en masse in the wake of tragic news stories.

The App App Store, which has stricter rules on renaming and uploading apps, does not contain similar apps.

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'MH17 Live Update' is just one example. Other MH17 apps - all with suspiciously generic five star reviews attached - include one dedicated to ludicrous conspiracy theories. That app includes the pitch that it is "Intriguing! Shocking! or Boring! Entertaining For Smart Readers Like You".

Another app is described as a "puzzle" game, and appears to just include various unattributed photos of the disaster.

To some extent it is possible to see how MH17 apps are serving a legitimate purpose: for those involved or particularly interested in the disaster, it's a way of focusing news in one place.

But before you download any, make sure you have also updated your anti-virus software. Security experts warn in the aftermath of major news events that unscrupulous developers rush to cash-in on the tragedy by scamming web browsers with bug-laden sites and apps. We don't know if these apps are safe to download, but we wouldn't bet on it.