Google Releases Location Data To Show If Covid-19 Lockdown Is Really Working

Google has published a report for 131 nations revealing whether Covid-19 lockdown implemented by various governments across the world is working or not. 

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Google’s analysis of location data from billions of users’ phones is the most comprehensive public dataset available to help health government officials evaluate if people are continuing with ‘stay at home’ and similar orders issued across the world.

Its reports show charts that compare traffic from February 16 to March 29 at subway, train and bus stations, grocery stores and other broad categories of places with a five-week period earlier this year. In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the deadly coronavirus, visits retail and recreation locations, including restaurants and cinemas, dropped by a whopping 94%.

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In the US, California, which was the first in the with a statewide lockdown, cut visits to retail and recreation locations by almost 50%. By contrast, Arkansas, one of the few states without a comprehensive lockdown, has seen such visits fall 29%, the lowest for a US state.

The data also highlights some challenges governments have encountered in keeping people away from each other. Grocery store visits mounted in Singapore, the UK as travel constraints were set to go into place.

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In Japan where officials have been moderately relaxed in pushing social distancing measures, visits to retail and recreational places fell 26%. Visits to the offices fell an insignificant 9%.

Facebook has also shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for governments in numerous countries. But the social media giant has not revealed any numbers.

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Google, which gathers demographics from users’ internet use as well as some data are given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to incorporating additional information and countries in follow-up reports.

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

Google said it published the reports to circumvent any ambiguity about what it was providing to governments, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive tracking with the need to curb further pandemics.

China, Singapore, South Korea, and other countries have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties.

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Data in Google’s reports come from users who enabled Google’s “Location History” feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.

Consultations with officials in California, Texas, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation helped inform data shared, Google said.

Via: Reuters