Google says it will publish users’ location data around the world from Friday to allow governments to gauge the effectiveness of social distancing measures, brought in to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. 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”, according to a post on one of Google’s blogs.
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.
“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.
Like the detection of traffic jams or traffic measurement Google Maps, the new reports will use “aggregated, anonymised” data from users who have activated their location history. No “personally identifiable information,” such as an individual’s location, contacts or movements, will be made available, the post said. The reports will also employ a statistical technique that adds “artificial noise” to raw data, making it harder for users to be identified.
From China to Singapore to Israel, governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens’ movements in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has infected more than a million people and killed over 50,000 worldwide. In Europe and the United States, technology firms have begun sharing “anonymised” smartphone data to better track the outbreak.
In other news – Pregnant refugee in Cape Town accuses police of assault
A pregnant refugee claims she has suffered a beating at the hands of police. This comes after refugees were removed from the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town. They have been moved to a camp in Bellville. I got beaten by the police very badly on my back and I am pregnant.
Twice now and their weapons are very sore. They beat my baby and she’s still lying down there and I don’t know why. The child couldn’t sleep and I also couldn’t sleep”, she said. Read more