In brief: US government officials are in talks with several tech giants about using people’s phone location data to combat the spread of the coronavirus. While the plan will raise privacy concerns, the data would be presented in an anonymized, aggregated form for researchers to analyze the infection’s transmission and spread. Officials said the information would not be built as a government database.
According to a Washington Post report, Facebook, Google, and other companies took part in discussions with health experts on how phone location data could be used to track the pandemic in the US. Last week, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter met with U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios for talks on how the tech industry can help in the battle against COVID-19. It’s likely that the meeting led to plans for location data tracking.
“It’s also an approach that could leave some Americans uncomfortable, depending on how it’s implemented, given the sensitivity when it comes to details of their daily whereabouts,” writes the Post.
The data could also be used to discover if people are adhering to preventative measures such as social distancing and avoiding gathering in groups of ten or more, and how much these practices are slowing down the virus’ spread.
Many tech firms are lending a hand in the fight against the coronavirus. Facebook is investing $100 million to help small businesses affected by the outbreak and is giving employees $1,000 bonuses to deal with the fallout. Alphabet subsidiary Verily, meanwhile, is in the early stages of developing a website focused on COVID-19.