Google’s apps and services are among the most-used in the world, so it’s no wonder that people turn to the company when they want to find out more about the coronavirus pandemic. In order to suppress misinformation and help its users find trustworthy sources, Google took a lot of measures, including a COVID-19 website created in cooperation with the WHO and the CDC and many editorialized search results in all products. While it’s pretty easy to spot all of this information yourself while you’re using Google apps, we’d still like to give you a broad overview of some of the measures.
Google created a dedicated website where it collects all information on COVID-19 in a neat and ordered way. It’s accessible at google.com/covid19. You’ll find an overview of the spread, the symptoms, prevention measures, and possible treatments. Safety tips are delivered via YouTube videos from trustworthy sources like the WHO, the CDC, and Vox Media. Other videos include tutorials on how to work from home, coping with anxiety and stress, workouts from home, and more. The site also gives you insight into data, such as search trends and a map that shows you how badly which areas in the world are affected.
The top of the site features prominent links to health organizations such as the WHO and the CDC if you need further details — these two have also been involved in building the page itself. A dropdown lets you choose your state so you get access to your local authorities’ measures and tips.
Information from other countries’ authorities aren’t available on the site yet, but Google says it “will be available in more languages and countries in the coming days” and “we’ll update the website as more resources become available,” so try to check back in a bit if localized content is missing.
You’ll find a similar interface in Google Search when you enter queries like “coronavirus” and “COVID-19.” In contrast to the COVID-19 site, this experience is already tailored to your location and search history. As a Berlin-based German, I get information from the local ministry of health, and the statistics in the right sidebar highlight my country. On the left (or top, when you’re on mobile), you’ll find a sidebar that lets you access the same cards with information snippets from the WHO that are also available on the COVID-19 website: symptoms, prevention, treatments, and statistics.
While Maps is having a hard time catching up with new opening hours or temporary closures, the service is doing its part in trying to keep the public safe. For one, there’s now a prominent link to the “coronavirus” Google query above the Explore nearby section. For another, a Twitter user has also spotted an additional COVID-19 alert that shows up when you search for Red Cross blood donation centers, asking you to stay home if you feel sick (which you should do in any case when you want to donate blood).
New warning for me in Google Maps pic.twitter.com/psLOhhpal6
— Russell Holly (@russellholly) March 20, 2020
Google placed a permanent “Coronavirus (COVID-19)” banner at the top of the Discover screen that links to the coronavirus search mentioned above. This might be particularly useful if your Discover feed is filled with sensationalist news revolving around the virus, which could help you discern official statements from rumors. If you do see headlines and articles in Discover that you deem as sensationalist or misleading, you can now also report them via the three-dot menu in the bottom right corner of their card.
Left: Google Travel homepage. Middle: Domestic flight notice. Right: International flight travel restriction.
Traveling isn’t really possible for many these days, but if you absolutely have to take one of the few remaining flights, Google will alert you if travel advisories are in place and will give you information on how to stay safe during your trip. You probably also want to know about all the flexible travel policies in place at the moment, and Google lends you a hand here, too. It has collected a list of all the policies currently offered by airlines.
When you watch YouTube videos about the novel coronavirus, a banner will appear underneath the player that links to the WHO’s website. There, you can find further information on the disease, which measures you can take, and the latest updates. Additionally, the platform allows YouTube channels to start fundraisers which you can easily support via a donate button that taps into your Google Pay account. On the YouTube homepage and in the subscriptions tab, featured banners link to the WHO, and a selection of video news inform you about the virus.
The Play Store offers a localized section dedicated to apps with information on the outbreak. The US version gives you access to applications from the CDC, the American Red Cross, Doctor on Demand, News360, Medical ID, and Twitter (which also shows you curated results when you search it for “COVID-19” or “coronavirus”). A Play Store search for “coronavirus” used to be blanket-banned, but now, it shows you regionally relevant, curated apps. In some countries, there’s a note that Google is still working on expanding the selection of apps. It’s doing that because in the beginning, some bad actors tried to take advantage of the crisis with malware and unhelpful, often paid apps.
This is only a collection of some highlights. There is a sheer uncountable number of additional Google measures to combat the virus, including an $800 million pledge to support businesses, the WHO, and NGOs affected by or working against the virus. The company is also working hard on helping educators and students stay connected, it lowered YouTube bandwidth usage to reduce the streaming service’s strain on network infrastructure, Assistant gives you some tips on how to wash your hands, and much more — you can read all about it on Google’s blog.
Some of the efforts may seem to be a little uncoordinated or duplicates of one another, but it’s still impressive how quickly Google managed to act in this time of crisis. We have to keep in mind that most of its team is currently working from home, and like many other companies, Google is probably running into a lot of issues along the way. It’s also interesting that Google is heavily curating content — usually, the company tries to rely on algorithms and machine learning to give you the most relevant facts and data, but technology seemingly can’t handle this unprecedented crisis (yet).