Paris: Google will release location data from its users around the world starting on Friday so that governments can assess the effectiveness of social distancing measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology giant said.
Reports of user movements in 131 countries are available on a dedicated website and, according to a post on one of the company’s blogs, “show movement trends over time by geography.”
Trends will show “a percentage increase or decrease in visits” to places like parks, shops, homes, and workplaces, not “the absolute number of visits,” said the chief health report, signed by Jen Fitzpatrick, director of Google Maps Company officer, Karen DeSalvo.
“We hope these reports will help support decisions on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
“This information could help officials understand changes in major trips that may include business hour recommendations or information about delivery services.” As with traffic jam detection or traffic measurement on Google Maps, the new reports use “aggregated, anonymized” data from users who have their location history enabled.
According to the post, no “personally identifiable information” such as location, contacts, or movements of a person is provided.
The reports also use a statistical technique that adds “artificial noise” to the raw data, making it difficult to identify users.
From China to Singapore to Israel, governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens’ movements to limit the spread of the virus, which has infected over a million people and killed over 50,000 people worldwide.
In Europe and the USA, technology companies have started to exchange “anonymized” smartphone data in order to better track the outbreak.
Even data protection-loving Germany is considering using a smartphone app to manage the spread of the disease.
However, activists say authoritarian regimes use the corona virus as an excuse to suppress independent language and increase surveillance.
In liberal democracies, others fear that widespread data collection and data intrusion could permanently damage privacy and digital rights.