Technology

Facebook to share data with aid groups after natural disasters

Facebook released a new set of tools on Tuesday to aid relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters.

The company unveiled maps that used anonymized Facebook user data to help organizations respond to natural disasters.

Facebook had previously helped users in dangerous areas by allowing them to check-in as "safe" and share that with friends and family.

"One of the consistent pieces of feedback we were receiving is that while a tool like safety check is useful for individuals in a disaster, what organizations actually need is a bird's eye view," said Molly Jackman public policy research manager at Facebook.

"If you imagine you're the Red Cross and there's a hurricane, in order to figure out the most effective response plan, you need to understand what's going on on the ground," she continued.

The platform's safety check is available to users during crises like terrorist attacks and natural disasters, but Facebook noted that the new features would only be available during natural disasters.

Disaster relief organizations will now have access to maps based on three different types of datasets: location density maps to show where people are before, during and after a natural disaster; movement maps that show how people move around cities during natural disasters; and safety check maps to show where people are checking in as safe in relation to the location of a natural disaster.

The company noted that data for location density and movement maps would draw on de-identified data obtained through location sharing that users opt into when they download Facebook's mobile application.

Facebook stressed that it was only sharing the information with "trusted organizations that have capacity to act on the data and respect our privacy standards." They include UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Food Programme.

"We hope that this can be a model for other companies to start thinking about how they can use data to inform response efforts and to empower organizations to respond more efficiently and effectively," Jackman said.

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