Updated Mar 15, 2020 - Technology

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.

By the numbers: Verily has 1,000 employees in total. On Thursday Google/Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai sent out a call for volunteers from Google to help Verily with its COVID-19 project, and received 1700 offers.

What they're saying: "Google is helping to develop a website," Trump said. "It's going to be very quickly done, unlike Websites of the past — to determine if a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby, convenient location."

  • Google said in a tweet that workers at its Verily unit "are developing a tool to help triage individuals for COVID-19 testing."
  • "Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time," Google said in the tweet.
  • Google declined to comment beyond the tweet. It's not clear how many of the volunteers for the Verily project will end up actually contributing to it.

The big picture: Google has lots of employees in other parts of the company working on other virus-related issues.

  • It has been working with public health authorities across the globe to ensure authoritative information is displayed any time someone enters a virus-related search query.
  • And teams in search, advertising and YouTube are working to prevent misinformation and profiteering.

What's next: At the Friday press conference, Vice President Mike Pence promised more details and a launch date for the project by Sunday.

Editor's note: The original headline of this story, "Trump's Google math doesn't add up," has been changed to more accurately reflect the questions surrounding the president's announcement of the Google project. This article has been updated with Google's latest statement.

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