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What are Google SOS alerts and why is there one for coronavirus?

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Google has issued one of its rare SOS Alerts to combat panic and misinformation. Here’s what that means.

If you google ‘Coronavirus’ right now, the search engine will display a big red bar above all of your results. Despite the fact that this little block is coloured a panic-inducing shade of red and features the words SOS Alert, it’s actually meant to reassure you.

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The tech giant puts out these alerts when there’s a natural or human-caused crisis, in an attempt to make relevant info easily available to worried people. When you see that SOS alert banner at the top of Google search, it signals that the company has brought together “relevant and authoritative content”, and filtered out bogus stories.

So while a normal Google search might throw up a few whacky articles, all the info displayed under an SOS alert has been filtered for accuracy and quality.

According to Google, this special info is sourced by “government agencies, first responders, trusted media outlets, and NGOs”.

The SOS alerts are usually tailored to your country. Anyone Googling in the UK right now will see a carousel of news stories at the top of their search results followed by a list of links to helpful and informative sites.

At the top of this list is a link to the NHS, which is followed by a link the UK government’s information page. Elsewhere, people might also see relevant phone numbers to local medical services.

At present, searching in the UK will also pull up a global map showing which countries have the highest infection rates. Google says it normally applies these SOS alerts across all of its services (like Maps) but currently it looks like the company is only issuing warnings through its popular search engine.

Related: How to stop Google using your location data for its Covid-19 behaviour tracking reports

Anyone with the Google app installed may see an SOS alert pop up on their home screen, but only if they’re near an affected area and they have location sharing turned on.

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