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Google to Publish User Location Data to Help Governments Tackle Virus

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Google to publish user location data

Google has published location data from its users around the world which includes every province, city and town in Thailand. Furthermore Google will allow governments and the public to gauge the effectiveness of social distancing measures put in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reports on users’ movements in 131 countries was made available on a special website.It will also chart “movement trends over time by geography”, according to a post on one of the company’s blogs.

Trends display a percentage point increase or decrease in visits to the following places:

  • Retail and recreation (eg restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and cinemas)
  • Grocery and pharmacy (eg supermarkets, food warehouses, markets, specialty food shops, pharmacies)
  • Parks, beaches and plazas (eg national parks, public beaches, marinas, and public gardens)
  • Bus, subway and train stations
  • Office buildings and other places of work
  • Residential

Trends will be display “a percentage point increase or decrease in visits” to locations like parks, shops, homes and places of work, not “the absolute number of visits,” said the post, signed by Jen Fitzpatrick, who leads Google Maps, and the company’s chief health officer Karen DeSalvo.

“We hope these reports will also help support decisions about how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic,” they said.

“This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”

Like the detection of traffic jams or the measurement of traffic on Google Maps, the new reports use “aggregated, anonymized” data from users who have activated their location history.

No “personally identifiable information”, such as a person’s location, contacts or movements. Above all it will be made available, the post said. The reports employ a statistical technique that adds artificial noise to raw data. Consequently making it harder for users to be identified.

Activists worry about data harvesting from Governments

From China to Singapore to Thailand, governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens‘ movements in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has infected more than a million people and killed over 50,000 worldwide.

In Europe and the US, technology firms have begun sharing anonymized smartphone data to better track the outbreak. Even privacy-loving Germany is considering using a smartphone app to help manage the spread of the disease.

Furthermore activists say authoritarian regimes are using the coronavirus as a pretext to suppress independent speech and increase surveillance. And in liberal democracies, others fear widespread data harvesting and intrusion could bring lasting harm to privacy and digital rights. To see Thailand data click here

Source: Google, Bangkok Post

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