Coronavirus-Related Google Assistant Actions Blocked and Removed
Google is trying to control the information related to the coronavirus, COVID-19, and is limiting approval of Google Actions related to the disease. The limitation is part of Google’s broader effort to prevent potential misinformation from being spread by its platforms.
Google Assistant Action Removal
Google has to approve of new actions for Google Assistant and can reject them for a whole host of potential violations. As can be seen at the top, submission of a Google Action with some connection to the coronavirus will lead to a rejection note citing it as a violation of Google’s guidelines.
“Your Action is related to or contains content related to COVID-19. In the current climate, our platform is working to provide consistently accurate information about this topic,” the note reads. “For that reason, we are limiting approval of Actions related to COVID-19. Our teams are actively working to ensure people have the most up to date and authoritative information to stay safe.”
Note that the issue is not that the submitted Google Action has any misinformation or any inaccuracies. The problem is that it has any relation to the disease at all. That might seem overzealous, but to Google, it’s part of a strategy to preemptively combat misinformation and lies about the disease by clamping down on all information about it except for what it approves.
Coronavirus is a new addition to the list of problematic Google Assistant Actions. In an experiment on Friday, we asked different voice assistants about the coronavirus. Google Assistant was full of coronavirus-related factsheets and even a quiz about the subject, as can be seen above. On Monday, Google Assistant responded to requests for those actions by saying they were no longer available. Google took the weekend to create and lay down a new set of rules regarding adding coronavirus-related actions to Google Assistant.
Google Assistant Inoculation
The company explained its goals in an email to all employees published as a blog post on Friday. The post discusses ways that Google is applying its tools to help people work from home, donating to charities supporting people with COVID-19, and contributing to scientific research about the disease. Right in the middle of those highlights, Google focuses on the various ways bad actors are trying to leverage Google to mislead people about the coronavirus for profit, and how the company is responding.
“Our Trust and Safety team has been working around the clock and across the globe to safeguard our users from phishing, conspiracy theories, malware and misinformation, and we are constantly on the lookout for new threats. On YouTube, we are working to quickly remove any content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment. On Google Ads we are blocking all ads capitalizing on the coronavirus, and we’ve blocked tens of thousands of ads over the last six weeks,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post. “We are also helping WHO and government organizations run PSA ads. Google Play also prohibits developers from capitalizing on sensitive events, and our long-standing content policies strictly prohibit apps that feature medical or health-related content or functionalities that are misleading or potentially harmful.”
While not explicitly citing Google Assistant Actions, the Google Play reference about “sensitive events” fits with what the company’s rejection note says. For now, third-party developers won’t be allowed to add anything to Google Assistant about the disease.