Google is publicly releasing the data it’s collecting about citizen’s movements during the coronavirus outbreak to assist and inform governments and public health officials.
The company is publishing a series of “Community Mobility Reports” showing places people are visiting across 131 countries and regions during the outbreak. The first report was published Friday. According to CNN Business, Google said it hopes tracking movement trends will help governments’ and public health officials’ decisions on the outbreak.
“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,” Google said in a blog post Friday. “This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”
The reports contain data on people’s movements from up to three days earlier and is intended to spot trends in how people are behaving and responding to social distancing. The reports will show where people are shopping and going to get exercise and how busy places were before the outbreak.
The company said the data sets are created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the location history setting on their cellphones and tablets.
Despite Google’s attempt to help deal with the outbreak, some believe the move will create privacy issues. Mark Skilton, director of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network at Warwick Business School, believes Google’s decision to use public data “raises a key conflict between the need for mass surveillance to effectively combat the spread of coronavirus and the issues of confidentiality, privacy, and consent concerning any data obtained.”
“COVID-19 is an emergency on such a huge scale that, if anonymity is managed appropriately, internet giants and social media platforms could play a responsible part in helping to build collective crowd intelligence for social good, rather than profit,” Skilton added.
The coronavirus outbreak has led to more than 300,000 infections and almost 10,000 deaths in the United States. Additionally, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll showed 1 in 4 small businesses are on the brink of permanent closure and uninsured Americans could pay up to $75,000 for treatment.