Apple now sharing mobility data from Apple Maps to help public health authorities

Apple now sharing mobility data from Apple Maps to help public health authorities
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Apple is sharing its mobility data from Apple Maps to assist public health authorities in analyzing how people are moving in communities amid the pandemic, the company announced Tuesday.

The data trends tool uses information from Apple Maps to calculate the volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit in major cities and 63 countries or regions. Apple said in a release that it aims to allow governments and health officials to use the data to implement new policies to adjust the traffic in their respective areas during the coronavirus crisis.

The company said the data comes from the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions and therefore is not associated with a user’s Apple ID and does not keep a history of where a user has been.

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Data from recent weeks, when much of the world and country are under lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, can be compared to data from earlier this year.

“While protecting your privacy, we are sharing aggregated mobility data from Apple Maps to help public health authorities learn how people travel in their communities and to provide valuable insights to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet. 

Lawmakers have questioned the potential privacy violations that could come with released mobility data. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (D-Mass.) expressed concerns in a letter earlier this month to Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the company’s publication of anonymized and aggregated location data. 

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But Apple reiterated the release of data does not violate privacy rights. 

“Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values, so Maps doesn’t associate your data with your Apple ID, and Apple doesn’t keep a history of where you’ve been,” Apple wrote under the data tool.

Other countries like South Korea, Singapore and China have used phone location data to determine “contact tracing” for those who have tested positive for the virus.