Mar 16, 2020 - Technology

Trump's Google claims fit his pattern of tech hype

Illustration of Google search bar with “How to launch a website” and Trump pointing to button.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump's exaggerated claims about a Google-developed website to triage coronavirus diagnosis and treatment nationwide are the latest instance of a longstanding presidential pattern of tech-related misrepresentations and hype.

Why it matters: At a moment when the public needs solid trustworthy information from leaders, institutions and news sources, the president is spreading confusion and doubt.

Driving the news: Trump has several times since Friday insisted that Google is working with the government to build a nationwide website to help manage coronavirus diagnosis and treatment.

  • That claim blindsided Google when Trump first made it Friday.
  • Verily, the health-tech unit of Google parent Alphabet, is now ramping up a pilot project in two San Francisco Bay Area counties that resembles a smaller version of what Trump suggested, while Google scrambles to launch an entirely new, less personalized nationwide information portal about the virus.

The big picture: It's not the first time that Trump has made a big promise or distorted claim on behalf of a tech company that later has to be pulled back to reality.

  • He said in 2017 that Apple would be building three "big, big, big" new plants in the U.S. That hasn't happened.
  • He said he "opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas" in November. In fact, he was taking a tour of an existing Austin facility where an Apple contractor has made Mac Pros since 2013.
  • He heavily touted a deal that he negotiated alongside then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker awarding Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn billions in tax incentives to build a major plant. That's been mired in years of delays and uncertainty, with none of the manufacturing jobs promised yet materializing.
  • He said wireless providers were "very happy doing what they were doing" but are now planning to build 5G networks "at my request." Companies have spent years aggressively racing to develop the technology, infrastructure and airwaves needed for 5G wireless service.

Be smart: Tech companies have learned not to contradict the president, even when they know he is wrong, to stay on his good side.

  • The industry has fared well in the Trump years, saving billions in tax cuts, benefiting from the administration's aversion to regulation, and winning government backing in international disputes.
  • But Trump's administration is pursuing multiple antitrust investigations, and the president has regularly complained that Facebook, Google and Twitter are biased against him and his supporters.

The other side: Trump has feuded with Amazon CEO (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos.

  • Trump long insisted Amazon is ripping off the U.S. Postal Service and launched a task force to look into the issue.
  • More recently, Microsoft landed a $10 billion Pentagon contract months after Trump spoke out against it going to Amazon, long the heavy favorite to win it. (The contract is now held up in litigation.)
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