President Trump surprised Google Friday, saying the company was working on a coronavirus web portal. Now the company is scrambling to catch up.
During Friday’s briefing, wherein he declared a national emergency, Trump said that Google was working on a website to assist with coronavirus screening. The President even went so far as to say that some 1,700 Google engineers were hard at work on the project. There was only one problem: it wasn’t entirely true. Both President Trump, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Debbie Birx, had mixed up the facts and left out one very important one.
First and foremost, the company working on the site was Verily, Google’s sibling company. Like Google, Verily falls under parent company Alphabet, and is its life science company. Second, the website in question is nowhere near ready for prime time, and was only slated for initial testing in the Bay Area. In addition, according to a statement to The Verge, Verily said the website was aimed at helping healthcare professionals, not the general public as Trump indicated.
In the aftermath of the surprise announcement, however, it seems Google is shifting gears to try to deliver what Trump promised. The company made the announcement via its Google Communications (@Google_Comms) Twitter account:
”We are fully aligned and continue to work with the US Government to contain the spread of COVID-19, inform citizens, and protect the health of our communities.
“Google is partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information.
”This is in addition to other measures we are taking, including: a Google “home page promotion” to promote greater awareness of simple measures citizens can take to prevent the spread of the disease;
”Work being done by our sister company Verily to launch a pilot website that will enable individuals to do a risk assessment and be scheduled for testing at sites in the Bay Area;
”Promoting authoritative information through Google Search and YouTube; taking measures to protect users from misinformation, including phishing, conspiracy theories, malware and misinformation;
”Rolling out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally until 7/01/20; advancing health research and science; and financially supporting global relief efforts.” – Google Spokesperson
— Google Communications (@GoogleComms) 3/14/20
While Google is to be commended for stepping up to the plate, even under confusing circumstances, the company will likely face additional challenges convincing individuals to trust it with their health data. Google recently found itself in hot water over its Project Nightingale, when it was discovered the company partnered with Ascension to collect medical data on millions of Americans without their knowledge. In the wake of that, there may not be many Americans that want to voluntarily give their medical data to the search giant.