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Big Data Companies Sharing Insight

Can companies like Google, Apple, Facebook that have data on peoples locations share general overview of reduction of people's movement?

Photo of Maurizio Mercurio
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As we are all asked to minimize our activity and in many cities asked to avoid leaving home I am wondering if it is within privacy ethics for companies like Google to share the reduction of movement they've noticed in peoples GPS location to give feedback that we are indeed contributing towards a successful effort? A healthy competition could initiate out of this between neighborhoods, towns, cities (at least within USA) to encourage limiting our activity and practicing social distancing. Not one particular's location would be shared but rather the overal graphic showing reduction in driving, walking, and travel in general as we all know they have a good picture of this :) 

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If Snapchat is able to implement their "heat map" feature I do not see why some level of city level movement reporting would not be allowed. Maybe I am not thinking about a sensitive aspect of this. Intent of healthy competition can quickly turn into cyberbullying, that's one big drawback I see.

Where are you getting information around COVID-19?

  • National Government
  • News: Digital
  • Social Media

What information do you feel you are missing about COVID-19?

While not relying on common news outlets, who can confirm the progress of social distancing. From my living room I can only confirm that my immediate people I am in touch with are also taking similar measures, but am a bit uncertain if the general population is following as well.

In what city are you located?

San Francisco, CA

In what country are you located?



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Photo of Anurag Sahay

This is already being done or proposed to be done in Israel.

Photo of Isaac Jumba

This is amazing to learn Anurag Sahay ! Curious if you could share more insights and learnings as the days go by. Welcome to the challenge Maurizio Mercurio !

Photo of Anurag Sahay

The following excerpt is from a news article:
Israel has passed an emergency law to use mobile phone data for tracking people infected with COVID-19 including to identify and quarantine others they have come into contact with and may have infected.

The BBC reports that the emergency law was passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval.

Israel also said it will step up testing substantially as part of its respond to the pandemic crisis.

In a statement posted to Facebook, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote: “We will dramatically increase the ability to locate and quarantine those who have been infected. Today, we started using digital technology to locate people who have been in contact with those stricken by the Corona. We will inform these people that they must go into quarantine for 14 days. These are expected to be large – even very large – numbers and we will announce this in the coming days. Going into quarantine will not be a recommendation but a requirement and we will enforce it without compromise. This is a critical step in slowing the spread of the epidemic.”

“I have instructed the Health Ministry to significantly increase the number of tests to 3,000 a day at least,” he added. “It is very likely that we will reach a higher figure, even up to 5,000 a day. To the best of my knowledge, relative to population, this is the highest number of tests in the world, even higher than South Korea. In South Korea, there are around 15,000 tests a day for a population five or six times larger than ours.”

On Monday an Israeli parliamentary subcommittee on intelligence and secret services discussed a government request to authorize Israel’s Shin Bet security service to assist in a national campaign to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus — but declined to vote on the request, arguing more time is needed to assess it.

Photo of Anurag Sahay

your idea seeks to curb public movement. Mobile data can also be used to trace contacts of diagnosed people, like Israel and Taiwan are doing.

Photo of Maurizio Mercurio

Thanks Isaac!

Photo of Maurizio Mercurio

definitely! I can imagine certain countries are better setup to implement this and have populations that are either open for it or in other cases have no choice. One must take into account each population and their trust towards their government and companies like these as certain approaches can quickly turn into a privacy concern debate. The ethics around when is it ok to use citizens information (location) is the important topic and I am afraid will take up a lot of the time that is not abundant for reaction to this. However if we trigger a more laid back approach to it, it might have better adoption and still provide the feedback or insight that people are looking for to reassure that many others are also respecting the social distancing that is required to help the situation. Only a few weeks ago we (or many of us) were proud of sharing our location while traveling, eating at certain restaurants, etc so if we incentivize sharing how much we are staying home, it could be a good social media initiative. When i share my numbers, I also provide a healthy pressure to my friends that respect me to do the same. I envision it as following:

via google maps, facebook, apple maps or any app the we already allow to have our location at all times (nothing changing there) there would be an added feature where you can "start the clock" and it will give you access to a tracker that counts the amount of hours you have stayed home. every so often one can share this tracker's results (via facebook, instagram, we chat, whatsapp, or any social media platform) and if one interrupted the "stay home" one would even be incentivized to share the reason why the "stay home" was broken (since it may be a reason to be proud of) for example a few different examples of published statuses could look like this:

example 1:
Mario Renolds: 94 hours home (confirmed by Google Maps)

example 2:
John McRichie: 26 hours home (confirmed by Google Maps)
"I broke my 'stay home' to grab some groceries for my elderly neighbor who should not be exposed at all and delivered them via a 'no-contact' method"

example 3:
Gisela Lorenti: 5 hours home (confirmed by Google Maps)
"I brake my 'stay home' every day since I work at a super market and we have been working 14 hour shifts to keep fulfilling inventory of food and goods for my town"

This creates the social pressure to contribute and will improve the actual "stay home" practices that people should be implementing. For example in San Francisco, CA we are allowed to go to the supermarket for groceries, but if someone is going to the supermarket every day, they could be technically following the law but not actually helping the situation.