Google uses maps data to track movement during lockdown

Date:9 April 2020 Author: Adrian Brown Tags:, ,

Google has begun publishing “Community Mobility Reports” which contain information about how often places such as grocery stores and parks are being visited. The tech giant announced the launch of this effort on 3 April.

Essentially, Google is using location data collected from smartphones to assist public health officials in understanding how people’s movements have changed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As global communities respond to COVID-19, we’ve heard from public health officials that the same type of aggregated, anonymized insights we use in products such as Google Maps could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19,” said Google in a blog post.

“These Community Mobility Reports aim to provide insights into what has changed in response to policies aimed at combating COVID-19. The reports chart movement trends over time by geography, across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential,” they added.

In order to determine the extent to which citizens are following lockdown rules, The Verge reports that data from people who have opted in to storing their location history is used.

These reports covered 131 countries for now and they are available to anyone. You can search for yours here. As you can see in the image below, users are able to search by country or region

Once you select your area, the system generates a PDF document with the data that has been gathered.

About the data in the reports Google said: “We’ll show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-to-72 hours prior. While we display a percentage point increase or decrease in visits, we do not share the absolute number of visits.”

If you’re concerned about privacy, Google has addressed this matter too. “No personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, will be made available at any point,” they said.

Adding that, “We also use the same world-class anonymization technology used in our products every day to keep your activity data private and secure.” Additionally, as mentioned before, data is only collected from those who have enabled the sharing of location history, which is off by default.

According to Google, the reports will only be available as long as health officials find them useful in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Below is a screenshot of the most recent report for South Africa:

Image: Unsplash

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