Google to issue reports on users’ location data to help governments enforce social distancing

Google said Friday it will begin publishing reports created from Google Maps users’ whereabouts to help governments make policy decisions regarding social distancing measures enacted to fight coronavirus. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer, said Friday the company will protect individuals’ privacy by not revealing any one user’s location, contacts or movement at any point. Dr. DeSalvo said the COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports will initially cover 131 countries and regions and they will expand to cover additional countries and regions in the coming weeks. “The reports use aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential,” Dr. DeSalvo wrote on Google’s blog. “We’ll show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-to-72 hours prior. … In addition to other resources public health officials might have, we hope these reports will help support decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.” Dr. DeSalvo wrote that the information Google has long collected but is now publishing may help officials understand better what defines an “essential” trip and where public transit resources may need to be allocated. Google users with the “Location History” setting turned on are having their whereabouts provide information for the mobility reports, which are publicly searchable on Google. Dr. DeSalvo wrote that her team is also working with epidemiologists who are focused on coronavirus and is providing them with an “existing aggregate, anonymized dataset” to learn more about the coronavirus outbreak and “forecast the pandemic.”

This certainly should raise all sorts of privacy and ‘big brother’ questions/concerns.  We’ll, of course, keep an eye on this developing story…

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