Google release location data for 131 countries to assess effectiveness of lockdowns

In a statement, Alphabet Inc said, Google has published reports for 131 countries which show whether stay-at-home measures, to stem the footprint of the Wuhan Coronavirus, adopted by government are working.

Google analyzed location data of billions of phone users to create a dataset which health authorities can use to assess if people are abiding with the government issued orders.

Google’s reports show charts that compare visits in recent weeks to bus stations, subways, trains, grocery stores and other broad categories of places with a five-week period earlier this year.

For some countries, including the United States, Google’s charts also shows regional data.

Like Google, Facebook Inc has also shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in many countries. Facebook though has yet to publish any findings.

The Wuhan Coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people globally, and its disease COVID-19, has killed 52,000 globally.

According to infectious disease specialists, analyzing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.

Google, which infers demographics from users’ internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. However it said, it was open to include additional data for countries in follow-up reports.

“These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies,” wrote Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, in a blog post.

Google has also clarified, that it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

Countries including China, South Korea, Singapore, and others have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines; privacy activists have however argued that such measures compromise individual liberties.

Google used data from users who had enabled Google’s “Location History” feature on their devices. It has also adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through its reports.

“Consultations with officials in California, Texas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization helped inform data shared,” said Google.

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