Even as the Coronavirus outbreak is continuing around the world, tech companies are busy censoring the keywords Coronavirus, COVID-19 and COVID19. This time around, it is Google filtering search results on the Play Store for Android devices. Try searching for Coronavirus or COVID 19 or COVID-19 on the Play Store on your Android phone, and you’ll be greeted with a “No results found” response. However, and quite weirdly this, you can search for COVID19 without any space or hyphen between COVID and 19 and the Play Store search results list a whole bunch of apps, including the official app of the US Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC).
We understand that this keyword censorship has been put in place to perhaps filter the low quality or frankly malicious apps that may spring up on the Play Store to take advantage of the panic around the world, as people search for answers. There is also a lot of misinformation that is available on various social media and unofficial news sources, and this could be an attempt to curtail apps that may be spreading wrong information about Coronavirus around the world.
We noticed that by doing this half-baked or potentially broken censoring of app search results, Google has also managed to block apps such as the official CDC app, the official CNN app, the NHK World Japan app, News Republic and Channel News Asia’s CNA app from the search results—and these are as reliable sources to tune in to for Coronavirus and COVID-19 updates.
This comes a day after we had reported that Chinese instant messaging app WeChat, owned by Tencent, was censoring messages that contained keywords including Coronavirus, discussions of central leaders’ responses to the outbreak, critical and neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, President Xi Jinping, references to Dr. Li Wenliang and more.
At the time of writing this, there are more than 95,425 confirmed cases of Coronavirus around the world, with as many as 124 cases already confirmed in the US. China continues to be the worst hit with 80,410 cases in Mainland China, 105 in Hong Kong and 10 reported from Macau, according to official figures. There are now 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases in India as well, including in Delhi and Jaipur, with some people under watch in Bengaluru and Agra, who may have come in contact with the infected. South Korea has reported 322 additional cases. No wonder people are searching for answers, and tech companies including Google are scrambling to find the right balance between censoring fake news and providing the correct information.