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On Friday, President Donald Trump stated that Google was working with his administration to create a website that would be crucial in the war against the coronavirus. The website, he said, would offer every American information on the Chinese-based novel coronavirus, and a list of nearby locations they could go to for testing and treatment.
Apparently Google was blindsided by the claim. The media followed through not by insisting that they create the website, but by painting President Trump as a liar and a failure.
CNN’s Brian Stelter, the host of Reliable Sources, gleefully put out a livestream to proclaim: “The Trump administration is lying to the country about the current scope of Google’s coronavirus screening website.”
Falling in line, Jake Tapper tweeted out a story to claim that “a knowledgeable source” informed CNN that Google was not, in fact, working on a national-scale coronavirus website. CNN has since changed the headline to reflect the fact that Google will, for a fact, partner with the US government to work on a national coronavirus website.
It's worth noting that Google never denied it was developing such a website. The scale of the platform may have been exaggerated, but Trump did not lie. As Alphabet sister company Verily stated: "'We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing."
And for all intents and purposes, Alphabet and Google are one and the same.
Linking to a Wired piece that said very much the same, MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin gloated on Twitter: “Trump caught Google off guard with a bogus coronavirus site announcement. Google's not making a nationwide coronavirus testing website. And the company had no idea the president would say it was.”
Well, why not? Why shouldn’t the trillion-dollar company that collects information on every single person who uses the website use its massive data processing capabilities to serve mankind instead of simply profiting from it? Why aren’t large corporations taking a more active stance against the greatest threat humanity currently faces?
Trump did right to catch Google off guard, essentially enlisting the company into the war against the coronavirus. As with his work on healthcare providers and insurance companies, Trump has managed to draft the expertise of corporations into performing their civic duties—and he did so without having to use or abuse his powers as the President.
You could argue that Trump may be unethical for making an untrue (at the time) statement about Google and its efforts against the viral pandemic, and you could clutch your pearls and wring your hands over how he’s using a trillion dollar corporation to do something it never agreed to do. But you’d also be wrong.
The fact remains that contrary to the reports, Google is, in fact, working on such a website. It may not have been precisely true at the time, but it’s certainly true now—and Google cannot disappoint the public without destroying their own reputation.
A day after it released a public statement to say that its sister company Verily would be releasing such a tool limited to the Bay Area, the company announced today that it would be following through with Trump’s claims. The company wrote:
“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.”
Trump played Google and the media like a fiddle, and he did it all for the public good.