Back in January, Google Search enabled an SOS Alert for all coronavirus-related queries to provide trustworthy information. Google Play now looks to have disabled searching for “coronavirus” Android apps.
Searching for “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” on the Play Store app or play.google.com this evening returns a “no results found” message for Android apps and games. Similar terms — like those appending “tracker” or “map” — also do not work. Movie, TV show, and book lookups are functioning normally.
Other terms like “COVID19” (without the dash) successfully return results, including one for the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention application. Meanwhile, the search bar will show suggested terms related to the coronavirus.
According to one reader, all coronavirus search terms worked before today. There are a number of possibilities, including this being a bug or some counter-abuse measure in response to high traffic.
Google might want to cut down on apps gaming SEO for the popular query and make sure there’s no misinformation. Terms that still work show several niche apps with hundreds to tens of thousands of downloads offering news about the coronavirus, while a handful of games are mixed in.
Another possibility is that Google Play wants to manually curate coronavirus search results to ensure that reputable Android applications, like the CDC app, are shown first. We’ve reached out to Google for an explanation.
Meanwhile, the company earlier today made premium Hangouts Meet free for G Suite customers to help people working and students learning from home due to closures. This afternoon, Google also cancelled the in-person component of I/O 2020 due to the coronavirus.