Google offered snippets of incorrect guidance to UK users on self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19

google serach
Google’s drop-down menu has been serving up incorrect advice to those who have been told to self-isolate after coming into contact with COVID-19.

  • Google reportedly showed UK users incorrect guidance on the rules around COVID-19 self-isolation.
  • The Guardian found Google offered incorrect snippets of advice through its ‘common questions’ box.
  • The error appears to have been removed. Google said some snippets didn’t always offer the full context.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google reportedly served UK users incorrect snippets of government guidance on self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19.

The tech giant has been working to counteract misinformation around the pandemic over the past year, banning websites from running ads on “dangerous content” that goes against scientific consensus, and joining a fact-checking group created by British charity Full Fact to help stop inaccuracies about the virus from spreading online

According to The Guardian on Monday, however, Google wrongly served up incorrect sections of UK government guidance as part of its automated “common questions” drop-down feature.

Google COVID common questions
Google’s common questions feature pulls responses to user search queries from official sources.

In the UK, individuals contacted by the National Health Service’s test-and-trace system, or pinged by their COVID-19 app, are required to isolate for 10 days from the date of exposure. This guidance sticks even if the person has tested negative for the virus, as symptoms can still manifest.

But The Guardian found Google’s drop-down feature for related queries, such as “Can I stop self-isolating if I test negative for COVID-19?” The answer offered read: “If your test is negative, you will no longer be required to self-isolate.”

On the official government guidance page, however, this advice is clearly for those that have been isolating because they have developed symptoms common to those with COVID-19, such as a cough or fever, but subsequently test negative.

Google appears to have removed the answer from its “common questions” feature overnight, and it was no longer showing on Tuesday when Insider entered a similar search query.

Google told The Guardian that while the search snippets were reviewed by medical professionals, they “may be presented alongside queries that are not relevant or do not provide the full context.”

“Common questions and answers in Google search are generated by Google. The Government Digital Service (GDS) works to ensure that all gov.uk information is clear and can be accessed directly from search engines, such as Google,” a UK government spokesperson said.

“Gov.uk plays a critical role in helping people and businesses get the latest information and support in response to the pandemic. COVID-19 content and services are regularly kept up to date to ensure that they reflect the latest government policy.”

Insider approached Google for further comment.

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