Since the beginning of the pandemic there are three million new users of Google Meet per day, in a total of 100 million people that where doing it daily around the world, revealed Bernanrdo Correia. The same is happening with online classes through Google Classroom, says the country manager of the company in Portugal, that already took this platforms and artificial intelligence to the National Health Service.
What was Google traffic increase since the beginning of the pandemic?
Quite a lot. Searches where very much linked to the coronavirus and surpassed even the searches during the peak of the Super Bowl. In the downloads of our apps, the increase was of 30% between February and March. Also YouTube noted a substantial traffic increase, particularly in the live video transmissions. Only the concert of Andrea Boccelli during Easter, had more than 39 million views.
And other platforms?
Google Classroom, our service for teachers and students to teach and learn remotely had a much bigger use than we thought. The number of students that used the platform increased 100 million, doubling what we had at the beginning of March. And we also saw a peak of use of Google Meet, the platform for video-conferences – that was charged only for professionals – and that from April 29th became free all over the world. We had three million new users per day, with a use 30 time bigger that it was in mid January. Today, we have something like 100 million daily users of Google Meet.
And how is it going in Portugal?
We are more or less following the international patterns. The health sector also has a great potential for these platforms. Will we have doctor appointments via video-call? We are very focused in supporting this sector, be that through virtual appointments for some of the partners we have in this area, such as the support line, Saúde 24, in partnership with Portugal Telecom, with whom we developed a service of virtual assistance that had a peak in demand.
What do these virtual assistants do?
Virtual assistants are already supporting professionals. In the case of hospitals they allow to make appointments through video-calls. In the case of the support lines, they allow to substitute a real person answering the phone. For the simpler cases, the screening is done by AI assistants (instead of pressing 1 for this and pressing 2 for that). That is, it allows a bit more of a personalized approach and to alleviate the weight on professionals, so that they can handle the more severe cases.
Are these changes in the health system here to stay?
I believe that, as in almost all sectors, there will be a permanent change due to the digital transformation that was accelerated due to this pandemic. It is not exclusive for health systems. We are seeing this in all spheres of the economy.
But, being the health care system a heavier one in means and costs, does the digitalization will allow more significant savings?
Any process of digital transformation always implies saving costs. There is a waiting list and there is a way to speed up the attention to the public and making it not only safer – through tools that allow social distancing – but also faster. At the same time, besides the reduction of costs, there is also the possibility of making that assistance more useful, more informative and more efficient. For example, we know that there are situations that do not need displacement to a hospital urgency. On the other side, technology will allow to manage an entire health care system in a much more efficient way. There are important steps being made, but its a sector where we need to accelerate even more. Google announced a fund of 800 million dollars for the PMEs.
How will it work specifically in Portugal?
It’s a global fund, its not managed country by country and it’s aimed at offering free publicity. It’s automatic, that is, most companies that are already our customers will receive an e-mail and they will access a free fund for publicity that will appear in their google accounts. It’s more oriented for small rather than medium sized companies, that need this support to be able to continue to communicate and making available their services. It was also recently announced a fund for the support of the media.
What is this about?
Our main worry is with the local press, that lives mostly from paper circulation in smaller communities. We created an emergency fund to which newspapers have to apply, in a process that it’s almost done. The idea is to have funds available for this newspapers without any condition. It won’t solve all the problems of journalism, but its a contribution that we can make in these times, and that symbolizes our respect and our will to support local journalism in Portugal and in the world. Only in the end we will know which funds will be out available in Portugal, but I hope that it will be well represented, as in the past with the Google News initiative, that brought more than 8 million euros to Portugal. The media has been suffering the effects of free news available through search engines.
Is there a margin for Google to have a more decisive role in the compensation of this situation?
Until journalism is not sustainable, the issue will never be over and we are available to help. Actually, after announcing the fund for the media, we provided for free – up to 5 months – our online publicity tools, used by many news outlets, so that newspapers can take a better advantage of online circulation, to compensate what is decreasing in paper. They can continue to expect from our side a proactive postures of support in innovation projects, financing, data and insights and, for example, one thing that we do a lot in Portugal is try to help to promote the internationalization of Portuguese journalism.
And how do you internationalize Portuguese journalism?
This is a special issue to me. In Portugal we have high quality journalists and content creators, absolutely fantastic, world class, but we have very little market, very little scale. We see that Spain manages to conquer markets in South America, be that in journalism or other areas, such as television series. For example, El Mundo or El País already have markets such as Brasil – where Portuguese is spoken – and we think that this should be the natural territory of Portuguese media. We have 300 million people who speak Portuguese and that should be our natural market. Our role here is to try to help Portuguese journalism to find its niche market. The content might not be political, because its less attractive form the outside, but sport news, technology or culture. We actually have a very interesting project with the Ministry of Culture, of promoting museums, where the digitalized version of museums are all in Google Art, and I think that this promotion of culture goes also through the internationalization of journalism and content creation. Even by the fluency of foreign languages of Portuguese people, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be producing contents at an international level.
What is Google Maps telling us during the pandemic?
The mobility data are an excellent indicator of how the population is reacting to government’s directives for mobility restrictions. When we are looking at the data for Portugal in Google Mobility Reports, we see that it was very much respected. There was a decrease of 89% in mobility until the 5th of April compared with what was the norm. In parks, 89%, in recreation and retail 85%. We will continue to give this date to the governments.