Story at a glance
- Many companies are using data collected from the American public to map out the success of social distancing measures.
- To address concerns over privacy, much of the data is anonymized to protect individuals.
- Some rely on information from the federal government and public health officials while others have turned to crowdsourcing.
Sharing your location has become a basic function of most smartphones, allowing you to consult maps for directions and let your friends know how far away you are from the restaurant. The data you share on your phone has become increasingly valuable to companies who want to know more about you. Now, it’s also a public health concern.
A number of companies, including tech giants such as Apple, are mapping their users' locations to evaluate how well they’re practicing social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. As experts consider extending the preventative measures, some states are fining residents who break stay-at-home orders.
Still, many data companies’ privacy policies will keep your phone from testifying against you. Much of the data is anonymized and some companies will even exclude your data entirely if there is a chance it could give you away. It’s all there in the terms and conditions you agreed to.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW RIGHT NOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS IN AMERICA
Here are some of the tools that could be tracking your location during the pandemic.
Apple's mobility trend reports show the change in the volume of daily requests for driving, walking and public transit directions in Apple Maps since Jan. 13.
This map by Streetlight Data, a data collection company that uses machine learning to analyze transportation patterns, shows the change in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) across the country, down to each county.
The COVID-19 Impact Analysis developed by the Maryland Transportation Institute (MTI) provides a social distancing index score to every state and county using privacy-protected data from cell phones, government agencies, health care systems and other sources. The index is based on data such as the percentage of people who are staying home, how many trips they are making and the average distance a person travels.
By tracking the change in distance traveled by smartphone users each day since before the coronavirus outbreak, Unacast scores each county on how well users in its boundaries are adhering to social-distancing guidelines. A 40 percent or greater decrease in distance traveled earns an A grade, while a less than 10 percent decrease or an increase in movement is an F.
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