The Alphabet Inc's Google published reports of all the 131 countries showing whether the going out of people to shops, parks and offices dropped in the month of March, on Thursday, as many governments have resorted to lockdown and issued stay-at-home orders due to the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus or COVID-19.
The analysis of the location data generated from billions of phones of the users by Google, is actually the largest dataset that is available for helping health authorities get an idea if people are following the orders and the lockdown all over the world.
Google data helping health authorities
Its reports show charts that compare visits in recent weeks to subway, train and bus stations, grocery stores and other broad categories of places with a five-week period earlier this year. For some countries, Google charts regional data, such as at the county-level within the United States.
Facebook Inc, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.
Coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people globally
The coronavirus has infected more than one million people globally, and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, has killed 52,000, according to a Reuters tally. Infectious disease specialists have said analyzing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.
Google, which infers demographics from users' internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to including additional information and countries in follow-up reports.
"These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies," Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post.
Google published reports to avoid confusion
Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks. China, Singapore, South Korea and other countries have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties.
Data in Google's reports come from users who enabled Google's "Location History" feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.
Consultations with officials in California, Texas, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization helped inform data shared, Google said. The company declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.
(With agency inputs)