Location data from Facebook and Google could clarify whether people are actually social distancing, and whether it's working.
- Google, Facebook, and other major tech companies are reportedly in talks with the US government to aggregate people's location data to help track the spread of COVID-19.
- The proposed partnership, first reported by The Washington Post, would aim to map how COVID-19 is being transmitted.
- Location data gathered by companies like Facebook and Google could also clarify whether people are social distancing in accordance with government orders, and whether it's working.
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Google, Facebook, and other major tech companies are reportedly in talks with the US government over a plan to use people's location data from apps and smartphones to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
According to a Washington Post report citing unnamed White House officials, the partnership could use aggregated, anonymized data provided by tech companies to determine the likelihood of transmission between different regions in the US.
The data could also shine light on whether people are adhering to government-ordered containment measures, like social distancing, as the number of coronavirus cases surpasses 5,000 in the US. President Donald Trump has issued guidance recommending that people avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more, while cities including San Francisco have ordered that people shelter-in-place.
The reported plan comes after several meetings between tech industry leaders and White House officials in the past week as the US scrambles to mobilize the private sector to help fight the spread of COVID-19. While the project raises red flags to privacy advocates, executives involved in the talks told The Washington Post that the data would be aggregated and anonymized and would not enable the government to follow specific individuals' movements.
Facebook already partners with health officials across the globe for its disease-prevention maps project, which aggregates data to track how contagious diseases spread.
"Disease Prevention Maps have helped organizations respond to health emergencies for over a year and we've heard from a number of governments that they're supportive of this work," Laura McGorman, Policy Lead of Facebook's Data for Good project, said in a statement to Business Insider.
"In the coronavirus context, researchers and nonprofits can use the maps, which are built with aggregated and anonymized data that people opt in to share, to understand and help combat the spread of the virus," McGorman said.
Google has also already embarked on a high-profile partnership with the White House, rolling out a half-finished coronavirus testing website days after Trump appeared to exaggerate its scope and take the company by surprise with an announcement Friday.
Representatives for Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.