Mar 15, 2020 - Technology

Google scrambles to catch up with Trump's website claims

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

At a Sunday news conference, President Donald Trump doubled down on his claim that Google is working with the government to build a nationwide website to help manage coronavirus diagnosis and treatment.

Reality check: Google was blindsided by Trump's Friday announcement of such a project. The company is now working on two different tracks: ramping up a small pilot project that partially resembles what Trump spoke of Friday but had much more modest scope, while also scrambling to launch an entirely new, less personalized nationwide information portal about the virus.

The personalized service Trump spoke about Friday will be based on a tool in development by Google's sister company Verily and initially will serve only the San Francisco Bay area.

  • Only after Trump's claim Friday that the tool would be rolling out nationally "very quickly" did Google begin working on the separate national website project, Axios has learned.

The nationwide website Google is now developing in partnership with the government will include information that was already being served up when people search Google products for terms related to the coronavirus.

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a Sunday blog post said the site will roll out late Monday and will include recommendations on prevention and links to information from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.
  • In a separate Sunday blog post, Verily said the other tool remains "in its early stages" and will start by directing some high-risk San Franciscans to "select sites" in the city for coronavirus testing, with plans to expand as more tests become available.
  • Google declined to comment beyond directing Axios to the blog posts.

What he's saying: "They substantiated what I said on Friday," Trump said at the news conference Sunday.

  • "The head of Google, who's a great gentleman, called us and he apologized," he added. "I don't know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace."
  • But Trump's Friday statement that Google already had 1700 engineers working on a national site was false several different ways, based on information supplied by Google and Verily themselves: There aren't 1700 engineers working on the project; the project is local, not national; and it's early in development.

Go deeper

Trump's Google announcement raises questions

Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

President Trump said Friday that Google is building a website to help people determine whether they need a test for COVID-19 and that "Google has 1700 engineers working on this right now." But Google said Verily, the life sciences unit of its parent company Alphabet, is "in the early stages of development" on such a tool.

Update: Google said in an updated statement Saturday it is helping with a national site, but it stressed the testing triage site is being done by sister company Verily, and they are aiming to start testing soon in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 15, 2020 - Technology

Google's national coronavirus website rolls out

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google late Friday debuted a new website devoted to information about COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus, including local information, prevention tips, search trends and additional resources for individuals, educators and businesses.

Why it matters: Google's effort, designed to help get the most accurate information before the largest number of people, has been complicated as Google has had to scramble to catch up to President Trump's pronouncements.

Google delays its coronavirus info portal

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google will not launch a nationwide website for coronavirus information as planned today. Instead, it hopes to have the website up later this week.

Between the lines: As Axios reported this weekend, the national website was only planned after President Trump blindsided the company by announcing it at a Friday press conference.