Coronavirus: Trump falsely claims Google developing screening website for use ‘across continent’

Contrary to claims from the White House, the company stresses that development is in ‘early stages’ and specific to the local area

Heather Kelly
Saturday 14 March 2020 11:19
Comments
Trump announces Google will launch coronavirus website

The White House is turning to Google to build a new screening website for anyone wanting information on how to get tested for the coronavirus, president Donald Trump said on Friday. However, there are some discrepancies between the White House and Google versions of what the site will be able to do, where it will do it, and when.

The site will actually be built by Verily, the life sciences division of Google parent company Alphabet that focuses on research and development around health issues, the company confirmed.

The president said 1,700 engineers were working on the triage website and that it would be done “very quickly.” Dr Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said they wanted to bring it “across the continent.” Vice president Mike Pence said they would have more information about when the website would be available starting Sunday evening.

“I want to thank Google, Google is helping to develop a website, it’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” said Mr Trump during a news conference to declare the coronavirus a national emergency.

But in a short statement shared on Twitter an hour and a half after the announcement, Verily said the website was only in “the early stages of development.” The tool will start in the San Francisco Bay area first with “the hope of expanding it more broadly over time.”

According to Dr Birx, who held up a flowchart to illustrate how the site would work, it will start with a survey that asks people about their symptoms and risk factors. If it determines they should get a test, it will direct them to the nearest drive-through testing center.

Verily spokesperson Emily Friedman said that the site would work with several test locations in the Bay Area while it is being tested, and that Verily is working with testing companies Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp on the project. Andrew Conrad, Verily’s CEO, used to be the chief science officer at LabCorp.

As first reported by the Verge, the tool will be built on Verily’s Project Baseline, which collects health data from volunteers. The Verily site wasn’t supposed to be for the general public at first, but the company has changed that plan since the announcement.

“We were intending to start with the highest at-risk populations, which includes health care workers, but were not planning only for them,” said Ms Friedman. “Our aspiration is for the triage tool to be used much more broadly.”

Verily started inside Google X, Google’s wing for experimental projects. It became its own division called Verily in 2015. One of its most high-profile projects was an effort to develop glucose-level sensing contact lenses that the company said it hoped “could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.” The project was shuttered in 2018, after researchers couldn’t find a strong correlation between glucose levels in teardrops and those in blood.

Verily did not provide any details on how it would handle any sensitive health data it collects. Google’s handling of health information has raised privacy concerns in the past. In November, 2019, it said it was partnering with health-care provider Ascension to collect and store personal data for millions of patients, including full names, dates of birth and clinical histories, in order to make smarter recommendations to physicians.

It would not be the first time president Trump has misrepresented the work of a tech company. In November, 2019, he took credit for Apple opening a manufacturing plant in Texas. The company had been building computers in a plant belonging to one of its contractors there since 2013, and while it does have plans for a new Austin campus in 2022, it will not build hardware.

The Washington Post

Reuters addedVice president Mike Pence said the website’s launch date would be known by Sunday night.​

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in