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Sundar Pichai (Wikimedia Commons/Maurizio Pesce)

Purpose Brand Business Tracker: Google’s COVID-19 Tech Playbook

Published on September 2, 2020

Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, has been proactive in the COVID-19 crisis, leveraging search and telecom tools to combat its spread.

The coronavirus gives Alphabet an opportunity to remove doubts about its corporate character and reinforce its brand purpose. Google’s effort to enable mobile contact tracing has magnified concerns that have been brewing for years about data privacy and search engine integrity.

As we found in the extensive survey at the heart of The Purpose Report, there is still widespread optimism among consumers that technology is changing life and society for the better (82%), but also general agreement that tech companies, especially social media companies, need to work together to ensure data privacy (84%) and to protect the integrity of public discourse by controlling fake news, fake accounts and factual inaccuracies (81%) through their platforms.

Google has continued to build partnerships and develop technology solutions in its efforts to combat the spread and impact of COVID-19. Over the past few months, the online search giant launched a number of new initiatives, campaigns and technologies to this end:

  • COVID Symptons Database. On Sep. 2, Google announced it would allow researchers to analyze county-level data on symptom searches nationwide to help them better track the spread and virology of COVID-19.
  • Exposure Notification Express. Announced on Aug. 31, this built-in smartphone app is designed to help governments notify individuals if they have been exposed to the virus. Developed in partnership with Apple.
  • AI and ML Partnership. On Aug. 24, Google and Johns Hopkins University released a presentation on their year-long collaboration to develop better artificial intelligence and machine learning for the healthcare industry. The partnership was inked in September last year with the aim of developing AI and ML tools and protocols for healthcare and medicine, but this has pivoted to the more urgent needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Mask-Wearing Google Doodle. On Aug. 5, Google released its latest homepage “Google Doodle” featuring each letter of the company’s logo doing its part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and obey CDC guidelines. Google Doodles are often used to highlight historic or topical events, achievements and people. Leveraging this popular tool to promote responsible behavior is a natural extension of Google’s purpose brand.
  • COVID-19 Public Forecasts. On Aug. 3, Google released a set of COVID-19 prediction models to the public. Developed in partnership with the Harvard Global Health Institute, the models “provide projections of COVID-19 cases, deaths, ICU utilization, ventilator availability, and other metrics over the next 14 days for U.S. counties and states.”

Leading With Purpose

Alphabet was one of the fastest corporations to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 10, it sent home more than 100,000 North American workers. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, expressed concerns for all employees in a companywide internal email sent in early March, as well as a call to action on Google’s business purpose to make information accessible and useful: “It’s important that we contribute to fulfill our mission and be helpful to people in these uncertain times. Because of the work we do every day, Google has an important role to play right now.”

Pichai has also been at the forefront of Alphabet’s public response to COVID-19. During Alphabet’s first quarter earnings call on April 28, Pichai’s comments melded an emotional message with a data-focused response to the crisis, as well as looking to the future: “Ultimately, we’ll see a long-term acceleration of movement from businesses to digital services, including increased online work, education, medicine, shopping and entertainment. These changes will be significant and lasting.” Pichai also detailed Alphabet’s three core contributions to the fight against COVID-19: