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Media botches 'fact-check' of Trump's speech: Yes, Google is building a coronavirus webpage


It's dishonest and stupid to pretend that Verily and Google are unrelated

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

From tech outlets ArsTechnica, TechChrunch, Wired and TheVerge to Forbes, CNN, and the New York Times, members of the media were eager to claim that President Donald Trump "lied" during his national emergency declaration on Friday when he said that Google is working on a website that would aid in the battle to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Times' Nicholas Kristof argued "it's not Google" building the site, which is in "early stages of development"
  • "Trump's Google hoax" wrote another columnist
  • Mika Brzezinksi accused the president of "inventing a fake Google site"

There's only one problem: These "fact-checks" are wrong. Yes, Google — along with what is now a sister company but was formerly known as Google Life Sciences — is building a coronavirus triage webpage.

Here is what Trump actually said

During his remarks in the White House Rose Garden, Trump thanked the tech giant, along with other large companies, for complementing the federal government's efforts to fight COVID-19.

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. And we have many, many locations behind us, by the way. We cover this country and large parts of the world, by the way. We're not going to be talking about the world right now. But we cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location. Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They've made tremendous progress.

Verily was formerly Google Life Sciences

Several of the fact-checkers made a big deal out of the fact that the company developing the website is Verily, which is legally a separate entity from Google. These reporters are desperately grasping at straws in an effort to damage Trump politically, as Verily is very much a Google company.

Both Google and Verily are subsidiaries of Alphabet Inc., a conglomerate that was created by Google when the tech giant underwent a massive corporate restructuring on Oct. 2, 2015. In fact, Verily was even known as Google Life Sciences until a Dec. 2015 rebranding. To suggest the two are totally unrelated, as Kristoff and others have implied, is disingenuous, petty, and silly. It is akin to arguing that Pixar isn't synonymous with Disney — even worse, perhaps, since Pixar started out as a completely independent company from Disney and Verily is Google's own brainchild.

Moreover, as CNBC pointed out, Google employees are actively supporting the Verily-led effort, including Google and Alphabet's CEO Sundar Pichai who sent a company-wide memo on Thursday announcing the initiative:

"Yesterday at TGIF, someone had a question about whether Verily could assist in the effort to test people for the COVID-19. I know we are all looking for ways to help right now, so I checked in with their team to see if they could use support from Google and our other bets for a new effort being planned," Pichai said. "The good news is that a planning effort is underway to use the expertise in life sciences and clinical research of Verily in partnership with Google to aid in the COVID-19 testing effort in the U.S."

How many Google employees are working on this?

Some reporters have accused Trump of misleading the public when he said "Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now," despite the fact that Verily only has 1,100 employees. He did not.

Where did the 1,700 figure come from? Axios reported Google's CEO sent out a company-wide call for volunteers to assist Verily with the coronavirus project on Thursday, and received 1,700 offers. It is unclear how many of these volunteers are engineers or will end up working on the project, but what is clear is that the president was not attempting to deceive anyone.

When will the website be ready?

Another observation made by some journalists and fact-checkers is that the website is "in the early stages of development" and not yet live. But Trump never said the website was ready to go. In fact, in his statement, the president clearly implied the site had not yet been finished. "It's going to be very quickly done," he said, which is exactly what is happening according to a company spokeswoman.

"The plan is that we should have the tool available by Monday," Verily's Carolyn Wang told the Los Angeles Times. Wang also explained the website is actually a virus triage tool as part of Verily's Project Baseline (formerly known as Google's "Baseline Study") and will be a section within www.projectbaseline.com.

The tool will start out local and expand from there

Finally, the fact-checkers took issue with Trump implying the triage tool will be available nationwide — but that is exactly the plan. As Google said in a tweet, the company is "planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time." Furthermore, at no point did Trump say the service will be available immediately across the country.

In short, the so-called fact-checkers are largely shadow-boxing in bad faith. Google and Verily are indeed developing a webpage to help combat the coronavirus that 1,700 Google employees have volunteered to support and they are building it "very quickly," as President Trump said with the hope of eventually expanding it beyond the Bay Area.

Any claim to the contrary isn't journalism or "fact-checking;" it is just petty partisan hackery during a national crisis.

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