• On June 1, the Tech Transparency Project blog published the results of a test which showed that 40% of the news and information sites that NewsGuard, an independent watchdog group, identified as publishing “materially false information about the virus” (97 out of 224) used Google’s DoubleClick or AdSense tools to display third-party ads. In some cases, the placements contradicted the policies of other Alphabet divisions; for example YouTube deleted the channel of David Icke, the conspiracy theorist, citing his “continued violation” of policies that prohibit the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Yet Google has not banned Icke from using its advertising system to monetize his website, where he promotes the same conspiracy theories featured in his YouTube videos.[1]

  • On April 22, changed its advertising policies to require all advertisers, not just those with political affiliations, to complete an identity verification program to show ads on its platforms, which include Google Search, Google News, and YouTube. Advertisers will need to submit personal identification, business incorporation documents or other information that proves who or what they are and the country they operate in. Google will start rolling out the policy with U.S-based advertisers in a phased approach and will release it internationally over the next few years.[2]

  • On April 16, various tech sites reported that Google detects and blocks an average 18M daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19, representing almost 20% of the total 100M daily phishing messages. Meanwhile, there are more than 240M coronavirus-related spam messages a day. For the most part, existing malware campaigns have just been repurposed to take advantage of the current pandemic. That commonality helps Google’s Safe Browsing system flag and warn against nefarious links in Gmail, Chrome, and other services that use the API.[3]

  • On April 6, announced it is launching a COVID-19 hub on Google News; the hub organizes news from authoritative global and local sources to help readers access the latest guidance regarding the virus. You can select which regions you want to be updated on in particular. It can also highlight stories by topics such as the economy, health, and travel, and emphasizes results from local news most relevant to you, including tweets from local authorities.[4]

  • On April 2, in a letter to partners and clients, communicated it would adjust the enforcement of its sensitive events policy, which blocks ads that try to capitalize on short-term events like natural disasters. Google first allowed health information PSA ads from government entities, supported by $250 million in donated ad grants (see below), then explored ways to support ads from hospitals, medical providers, government entities, and NGOs, and will extend it to additional sectors, including politics, “as soon as we’re able to do so safely”.[5]

  • On April 2, announced it would spend $6.5 million toward fighting the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus pandemic; funding will go toward fact-checkers, news organizations and nonprofits around the world. Part of the money will go toward fellowships at Stanford University to help reporters covering the coronavirus pandemic, and to groups supporting the ability of journalists to access research around the virus. Google Trends will be made more widely available for reporters, health care workers and law enforcement, with funding to train journalists on how to spot health misinformation[6].

  • On March 31, the impact of Google’s ban on ads capitalizing on the virus on political messaging was called out in an article in Protocol[7]. As a result of the policy many political and advocacy campaigns are focusing paid ads on Facebook.

  • On March 27, announced a new $800M commitment to support small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), health organizations and governments, and health workers.[8] Of this, an estimated $610M takes the form of “ad credits” and “cloud computing services”; these in-kind donations have been met with some skepticism.[9]

  • On March 21, CNBC reported that Google (and Apple) have added features to their voice assistants to provide users with a step-by-step questionnaire if they ask variations of, “Hey Siri, do I have the coronavirus?”[10]

  • On March 20, launched, offering education, prevention and local resources related to the novel coronavirus. At the top of the site, there’s an information box describing virus symptoms, treatment and prevention tips from the World Health Organization. Google also included links to state departments of health across the U.S., search trends related to COVID-19, and other resources for individuals.[11]

  • Working to quickly remove any content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment.[12]

  • Searches related to the virus trigger an “SOS Alert,” with news from mainstream publications including National Public Radio, followed by information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization displayed prominently.

  • Promoting WHO’s “Do the Five” campaign on the homepage to raise awareness of simple measures people can take to slow the spread of the disease.

  • Expanding Knowledge Panels to include CV-19 symptoms, prevention and treatments[13]

  • May eventually need to address its deal with Twitter to show tweets in search results, especially for queries about live and recent events.[14]

  • Google Ads: claims they are blocking all ads capitalizing on the coronavirus; have blocked “tens of thousands” over the last six weeks. Also helping WHO and government organizations run PSA ads.[15]

  • Google Play: prohibits developers from capitalizing on sensitive events; existing policy prohibits apps that feature medical or health-related content or functionalities that are misleading or potentially harmful.[16]

  5. Email from Chanelle Hardy, Policy Partnerships and Strategic Outreach, Google, to Chris Lewis, Public Knowledge, April 2, 2020

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