Google has published location data charts, which it collects from billions of smartphone users worldwide, to show how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought several countries especially in the Europe like Italy and Spain to a standstill. The report shows the changing patterns of the movements of people as the governments enforced lock down worldwide in several cities, issuing shelter in place orders to mitigate the spread of this highly contagious virus.
Since it’s the location data of billions of Google users being used for the report, it is the biggest dataset available at the disposal of the health authorities to help them analyse and assess whether people are following the stay at home and similar orders issued by several governments. This data highlights how busy certain locations are on the Google Maps. Such data aggregated and anonymized may prove to be very useful to make critical decisions to combat the Coronavirus spread.
At present, the data made available is of 131 countries with charts that compare traffic at retail, recreational venues, railway and bus stations, supermarkets and workplaces. You can also access data for individual countries, analyse country level data.
One of the things Google clarified on publishing the reports is that it wanted to allay the fears and confusion of the people about what it was providing to government authorities. This is in light of the controversies and global debate about bringing in the right balance between privacy and usefulness of information to authorities for preventing security threats, and crisis like this coronavirus outbreak.
As per the report, Italy and Spain, the two countries that suffered worst due to the virus’s community spread, saw a huge decrease in the number of people visiting the retail and recreation locations such as hotels, shopping centres and movie theatres, plunging to 94%. Countries such as United Kingdom (UK) and India showed decline in the numbers going to these places to the tune of 80% and 77% respectively.
In countries like Sweden and Japan who have not yet enforced lockdown measures the visits to recreational places, shopping centres only fell by a quarter roughly.
The location data analysis clearly emphasizes the difficulties government authorities have had to go through in trying to manage the spread by keeping people apart as a social distancing exercise. Even in developed countries like Singapore, the UK and several others there were challenges enforcing travel restrictions to go to public places such as those mentioned above.
Google / COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports
The company further emphasized that they had adopted all necessary technical measures to make sure that individual privacy policies are not breached, and no individual could be identified through the new reports.