Google’s new website, COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, uses anonymous location data collected from users of Google’s products and services to show the extent of “social distance” in different locations.
This site will show demographic trends in six categories: retail and entertainment, grocery stores and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential areas. The site tracks data changes over the weeks and displays the most recent data from 48 to 72 hours ago, which will initially cover 131 countries and individual counties in some U.S. states.
Google says the site collects data on a holistic, rather than a personal level, and does not show the absolute number of people who appear in parks or grocery stores, but rather percentage data. For example, the site’s first report showed that between February 16 and March 29, retail and entertainment-related crowds in San Francisco County fell 72 percent, parks fell 55 percent, and residential areas grew 21 percent.
Such data may help public health authorities identify the next potential new coronavirus outbreak hotspot, especially if it works better with other data, such as symptoms reported by emergency room patients. It could also help public health officials further promote the importance of maintaining a 6-foot (1.83-meter) social distance for specific areas, or close parks that often have residents flocking to the area.
As people in countries begin to return to work, such information may be particularly important to help public health officials understand which areas are most mobile and respond accordingly. But at the same time, the move could raise fresh concerns about the privacy of How Google collects user-targeted information.