by Chris White
Big tech companies began the Trump era as a foil to the president amid concerns the companies are politically biased, but many of them are becoming crucial cogs in the president’s virus response.
President Donald Trump kicked off his administration with claims that Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Silicon Valley giants were systematically throttling conservatives. The Department of Justice opened an antitrust investigation in July 2019 targeting the industry’s business models.
Trump rarely varnished his opinion on what he considered big tech’s bias against him.
“But I tell you what, they should be sued,” Trump said during a Fox Business interview in June 2019, referring to a Google executive who was caught in an undercover video suggesting the company is looking for ways to prevent the “next Trump situation.”
The employee in the video, Jen Gennai, said it was selectively edited and made her appear to be a more powerful executive than she actually was and that she was “explaining how Google’s Trust and Safety team … is working to help prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016.”
Trump’s barbs against Google and Facebook transpired before government officials were forced to reckon with the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China and has killed more than 30,000 people globally since early December 2019.
The administration is soliciting help from tech firms on a solution to the virus.
Here are some of the ways Google, Amazon and others are coming to Trump’s aide.
Apple Creates an App for That
Apple launched a website and app March 27 giving people who think they contracted the virus a screening tool, information about the disease, and guidance on when to seek testing for their potential condition.
The mega tech company developed the app and website in conjunction with the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The screening tool “does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities,” according to a press release Apple published announcing the website and app.
Google Builds a Nationwide Website Containing Information on COVID-19
Google created a nationwide website alongside the federal government on the creation of a national website providing people information about the nature of the virus.
“Google is partnering with the US Government in developing a national website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information,” Google said in a series of tweets March 14.
The company is also giving the World Health Organization $250 million in ad grants to help the government agency share information on how to beat back the virus, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a March 27 blog post.
Palantir, Google Are Providing Trump Geolocation Data
Palantir is helping the CDC deploy geolocation technology as a way of tracking the virus outbreak, The Wall Street Journal reported March 18. Other tech companies are providing similar services for the government, the report noted, citing documents it obtained.
Google and others are providing the government help locating people through their phones, as well as facial-recognition tech that can assist in finding people who contacted individuals who later tested positive for coronavirus, TheWSJ noted, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Tech experts warn about collecting geolocation data, according to a report Monday from The Washington Post.
More than 50% of the tech experts WaPo surveyed said the United States should not emulate South Korea, Israel and China in using the kinds of tools Palantir is suggesting. Still other experts said the mass digital surveillance might be necessary to tackle coronavirus, the survey noted.
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Chris White is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.