Google seems to be hiding coronavirus search terms in the Play Store

A brute force method to fight misinformation.

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Google is hiding Play Store search results for both “coronavirus” and “COVID-19,” as first spotted by 9to5Google. Searches for these terms with other keywords like “map” or “tracker” no longer yield any results, either. Google has not made any formal announcement about these search terms being disabled, so we can’t count out the possibility that this is a bug of some sort.

Misinformation about the spread of the novel coronavirus can crop up in even the most unlikely of places — so making it harder to access fake information is pivotal in the fight against the virus itself. But was hiding all search results the best way to do so?

No results at all, even real ones — If Google did disable these search terms, it’s an intense move to remove all results from the Play Store. That means even real apps with helpful information, like the official CDC app or the one China created to assess the risk of contracting the virus, cannot be found via these searches.

Lazy strategy? — Google’s strategy here is somewhat puzzling. Rather than being presented with only verified information, Android users won’t be able to find any information at all. The most useful solution would be for Google to more closely monitor the apps being uploaded to the Play Store, thereby giving it the chance to catch any apps spreading misinformation.

But that would take a large number of resources. The company may have just found it easier to disable these searches completely.

Google needs to update its upload policies — This isn’t the first time Google has faced issues with rogue apps being uploaded to its Play Store. Just last month the company had to remove more than 600 apps with “disruptive ads” from the Play Store — apps that probably should have never made it into the store in the first place for violating Google policies.

If the only viable option is to disable certain searches completely, maybe it’s a sign that Google needs to put more effort into screening new apps before putting them out for users to download.