Google’s Android Keyboard Said to Block “Chinese Virus” Suggestions

Google has quietly updated what’s being described as the “Emergency Bad Words” list that its mobile keyboard app relies on to provide suggestions when typing, with several COVID-19 related terms now added.

Reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong has discovered multiple new “bad words” that Google added to Gboard, including the following related to the new pandemic:

  • China disease
  • China virus
  • Chinese disease
  • Chinese virus
  • asia disease
  • asia virus
  • virus

In other words, when typing any of these terms, Gboard, which is available on Android and iOS, should no longer provide suggestions to complete the phrases.

“I guess the “bad words” lists are something Gboard uses to prevent from showing up in the auto suggestions,” Wong explains. “I found that strange too. But then people could be pairing “virus” with various ways to reference it,” she added regarding the term “virus” that’s been added to the list.

“The Chinese virus”

As for why Google added the terms “China disease” and “China virus” to the list, this most likely has to do with some people blaming China for the new coronavirus outbreak. Even President Donald Trump referred to the disease as being caused by a “Chinese virus.”

Most of the terms on Google’s blacklist are in some way or another of sexual nature, but it also includes phrases that shouldn’t otherwise be blocked, such as “bisexual men.”

At this point, Gboard is one of the most popular keyboard apps on mobile, alongside Microsoft’s SwiftKey, so such changes obviously impact millions of users. As Wong explains, this list is only used for American English, so presumably the blacklist doesn’t impact typing in other languages.

A quick test on SwiftKey seems to indicate that Microsoft’s keyboard also doesn’t offer suggestions like “Chinese virus” when American English is used as the typing language.

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