Google is working hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, so it has added curated safety tips and information cards to coronavirus search results. It didn’t include the Play Store in these efforts right away, though, and it looks like that helped some bad actors: Until recently, a search for “coronavirus” or “covid-19” led to apps and games with mostly questionable content. While there are legitimate apps sprinkled between these bad results, Google seems to have decided to fully slam the brakes for now and has stopped showing results altogether for any query containing “covid-19,” “coronavirus,” or “corona.” The solution isn’t waterproof, though: searches for “covid19” (sans dash) and other misspelled variations still give you results.
There are a few more indicators that Google wanted to move as quickly as possible and hasn’t been able to put much thought into its response yet. When you search for “covid” or “coronavirus” on the mobile Play Store, you’ll still get autocompleted suggestions that give you access to some “COVID19” app with less than 1,000 downloads and (thankfully) the Brazilian government’s official source of information on the disease. Hitting the search button will make these disappear, though, so there’s no intuitive way to download a legitimate app like Brazil’s or the CDC’s straight from the Play Store when looking for the relevant terms for the disease. Brazil’s case is even more severe, since all searches that merely include “coronavirus” or “covid-19” are banned from the store, and the app is called “Coronavírus SUS.”
Big difference: COVID-19 (the correct spelling) and COVID19.
Other than the functional “covid19” search term, you’ll also get results by searching for “covid,” “coron virus,” “cornavirus,” and other slightly misspelled variations. You’ll find many unhelpful apps this way, but to be fair, the CDC application and others are also sprinkled among these results. The Play Store website additionally still shows audiobooks, ebooks, and music results that don’t seem to be too helpful when you search for the correctly spelled “coronavirus” or “covid-19.”
The web Play Store still gives you (questionable) non-app results for a coronavirus search.
The most likely reason for the unavailable search results is an attempt to keep misinformation from spreading and preventing bad actors from profiting off COVID-19. It would be great if Google managed to whitelist a few apps that have proven to be trustworthy, even if that would only give you access to the CDC and other agencies or non-profits. We’ve reached out to the company for comment.
Dedicated section with COVID-19 information
It almost seems like Google listened to our suggestions, as a new curated section with information on the coronavirus outbreak is now available on the Play Store. You can find it in on the Store’s website or in the mobile version’s Apps bottom tab, though you might need to scroll down a bit there until you see it. In it, you get access to the CDC, the American Red Cross, Doctor on Demand, News360, Medical ID, and Twitter (which also shows you curated results when you search for COVID-19). The section is country-specific and will show you a different set of applications depending on where you’re based.
Searching for “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” still only returns a blank page, though, so there’s some work left to do for Google.