March 21, 2020 / JESSICA KIM COHEN
A new COVID-19 project from one of Google’s sister companies is the latest big-tech foray into healthcare to spark privacy concerns.
Verily Life Sciences, a research subsidiary of Alphabet, last week released a website designed to screen users for COVID-19 risk—and, for those who qualify, point them to mobile testing sites set up by the company. It’s part of Project Baseline, a data initiative Verily launched in 2017 to support clinical research and collect enough data to one day “map” human health.
It’s a private project but has been supported by both local and federal officials, developed in collaboration with the California governor’s office. President Donald Trump hyped the effort during a March 13 news conference in the Rose Garden, suggesting that Google engineers were working to quickly launch the screening tool.
“We’re honored to help support such an important public health program,” Verily wrote in a statement announcing the new project. “By connecting people with testing when it’s most needed, we hope to contribute to the efforts to address COVID-19.”
So far, the online screener is only available for those living in two counties in California. Verily has said it plans to scale the capability throughout the state, beginning with areas with high volumes of known cases. The company hasn’t outlined a schedule for the expansion, but said it plans to move into more regions in the “coming days and weeks.”