Google Uses Location Data to Help Combat COVID-19

Google announced it is using aggregated, anonymized data showing how busy certain types of places are during the COVID-19 outbreak. The data can help identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. Public health officials can use the data to make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.

Starting today, we’re publishing an early release of our COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to provide insights into what has changed in response to work from home, shelter in place, and other policies aimed at flattening the curve of this pandemic. These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies.

The reports use aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time and geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential. Google will show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-72 hours prior. Google will release these reports globally, starting with 131 countries and regions.

Google, again, attempts to reassure people that while they display a percentage point of increase or decrease in visits, they do not share the absolute number of visits. Google states that, to protect people’s privacy, no personally identifiable information (such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement) is made available at any point.

The Verge clarifies that the reports use data from people who have opted-in to storing their location history with Google. So, if the idea of Google using your location in this project bothers you – now is the time to go to Google’s Manage Your Location History page and pause Google’s Location History feature.

Personally, I don’t trust Google’s ability to keep private information secure considering some of the mishaps that have happened over the years. I think their idea to use location data to help public health officials make decisions on COVID-19 was done with good intentions. But, my concern is that if any of that data leaks, it could lead to unpleasant governments inflicting physical injury upon people who didn’t follow the quarantine rules.