SEATTLE: Google has said it will publish user’s location data around the world to allow governments to gauge the effectiveness of social distancing measures implemented to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an official blog post, the reports on users’ movements in 131 countries will be made available on a special website and will “chart movement trends over time by geography”.
The trends will display “a percentage point increase or decrease in visits” to locations like parks, shops, homes and places of work, not “the absolute number of visits,” said the post, signed by Jen Fitzpatrick, who leads Google Maps, and the company’s chief health officer Karen DeSalvo.
The data showed that in France, visits to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, museums or theme parks have plunged by 88 percent from their normal levels. Local shops initially saw a jump of 40 percent when confinement measures were announced, before dropping to 72 percent. The use of offices is possibly stronger than suspected as the decline in that area is a more modest 56 percent.
“We hope these reports will help support decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Google execs said. “This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”
The new reports will use “aggregated, anonymised” data from users who have activated their location history similar to detection of traffic jams or traffic measurement Google Maps, No personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movements will be made available.
The reports will also employ a statistical technique that adds “artificial noise” to raw data, making it harder for users to be identified.
Many governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens’ movements in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. In Europe and the United States, technology firms have begun sharing smartphone data to better track the outbreak. Germany is considering using a smartphone app to help manage the spread of the disease.
There are concerns that authoritarian regimes are using the coronavirus as a pretext to suppress independent speech and increase surveillance. Others fears data harvesting and intrusion could harm to privacy and digital rights.