Big Tech And U.S. Government Look For Ways To Use Smartphone Location Data To Fight Coronavirus

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The government is urging people to keep their distance from others to help slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The government is currently in talks with Facebook and Google along with a range of other technology companies and health experts to determine how they may be able to use location data gathered from smartphones to glean information about the coronavirus. Public health experts believe that private companies may be able to compile data in an anonymous and aggregated form that could be used to map the spread of the infection.

Details of the talks come from a trio of unnamed sources cited by the Washington Post, which claim that the project is in the early stages. While analyzing smartphone data could provide healthcare authorities a way to track the coronavirus, which has infected tens of thousands around the world and led to many deaths. However, there are sure to be those who disagree with the government tracking location information for any reason.

Sources have said that if the government moves forward with its plans, it won't be building a database. Facebook executives said that the United States government is interested in the pattern of people's movements. That information could be gleaned through data Facebook collects from users who allow it, and the company has in the past provided statistical information to researchers. That type of data could help in the prediction of where the next hotspot for the outbreak will be and help decide where health resources will be allocated.

Google confirmed this week that it had been in conversations with government officials and health experts. Google says that it's working on its own to derive insights from location data it gathers, particularly from Google Maps. Google announced that it was exploring ways that anonymized aggregated location information could help fight COVID-19. One example that Google gave was that it might be able to help authorities determine the impact of social distancing similarly to how it shows restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps. Google was clear that the sharing of data would not involve information about an individual's location, movement, or contacts.

People around the world are taking to the Internet to try and learn more about the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. While trying to learn more information about coronavirus, computer users need to be wary of hackers who have been using bogus coronavirus maps to infect computers.


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