Yesterday, fears over the spread of the COVID-19 virus — colloquially referred to as the coronavirus — caused the cancelation of the planned Google I/O 2020 event. Previously, the virus caused the cancelation of Mobile World Congress 2020 and is causing lots of other havoc throughout the world.
However, if you want to hit up the Google Play Store to find apps related to the coronavirus, you’re going to come up empty-handed. That’s because sometime yesterday, search results for both “COVID-19” and “coronavirus” started coming back with zero results (via 9to5Google).
You can try it for yourself using either the Android app version of the Play Store or the web-based version.
Interestingly, results still appear for a search query of “COVID19” and ebooks, audiobooks, and music results still appear. We’re not sure why. Check out the screenshots below of three searches using the Android app:
Google hasn’t made any announcements related to search terms on the Play Store. We’ve reached out to the company for clarification. However, it’s very likely Google is intentionally preventing malicious apps and games from attempting to capitalize on coronavirus fears by offering misinformation.
As an example of this, Amazon recently removed one million products from its store that claimed to prevent or even cure the disease (there is no cure or vaccine available for COVID-19 yet). Some of those products were removed simply for price-gouging consumers looking for ways to be safer against the spread of the disease.
Until Google makes a statement on the matter, though, we’re only able to theorize on why search queries are now blocked on the Play Store. Regardless, it’s good news to help stem the flow of misinformation.