Google to Publish User Location Data to Aid Governments and Health Officials

Google has begun to publically publish user location data from around to world to allow governments and health officials to spot the effectiveness of social distancing. The company hopes to play a part in helping to flatten the curve set by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report by CTV News, Google will now by publishing user location data on a special mobility report website made by the company. Based on the writings on the site, Google will be using these reports to “show how visits and length of stay at different places change compared to a baseline.”

Utilizing the same aggregated data used to show “popular times” in Google Maps, Google hopes to shed light on the location trends regarding retail locations, workspaces, and residential locations. Trends will then be compared to the previous data collected to monitor the effectiveness of social distancing. Current trends posted are compiled by an assortment of data collected over several weeks with the most recent being 2-3 days ago. A baseline was collected over a five-week period between Jan. 3rd and Feb. 6th, 2020.

Data from 131 countries will be collected. If a region is left out of the report. Google has stated that they may not have been able to collect a significant amount of data and have chosen to omit it.

Of course, this may raise some red flags when it comes to user privacy. Google has been transparent enough to state: “What data is included in the calculation depends on user settings, connectivity, and whether it meets our privacy threshold.” The post continued to reiterate that “No personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.”

A number of technology firms across the world have begun to debate the use of smartphone location data to monitor the spread of COVID-19. As of now, Google has not signalled when the report will be updated with new statistics.