Risk & Compliance

Google Launches ‘Mobility Reports’ to Monitor Social Distancing

Public health officials said the data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.
Google Launches ‘Mobility Reports’ to Monitor Social Distancing

Google has launched a website to track mobility across geographic locations to track the impact of social-distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The company said the COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports could help governments and public health officials make decisions that help people who need to travel spread out and reduce transmission of the virus.

Google said it will use aggregated and anonymized information from the location history setting in Google Maps and other services. The data will cover 131 countries initially and track changes as recently as 48 to 72 hours prior.

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

The COVID-19 Mobility Data Network includes 40 health researchers from Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and other universities. It has been operating since mid-March.

The Google reports, which are available to the public, track information across six categories, including retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks and other public spaces, transit, workplaces and residences. Policymakers could, for instance, spot persistent traffic at transportation hubs and add capacity to reduce crowds.

“In Google Maps, we use aggregated, anonymized data showing how busy certain types of places are—helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19,” the company said.

Google said the reports will be available for a limited time, “so long as public health officials find them useful in their work to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Facebook has been sharing its mobile location data with infectious disease researchers who advise states and cities on the effectiveness of their social-distancing measures.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said last month he would not consider sharing the company’s data directly with governments.

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