Facebook wants to Share User Location Data during COVID-19 Pandemic

Facebook is ramping up efforts to help researchers and healthcare workers better understand the spread of COVID-19 through the Data for Good programme.

In an official blog post, the social media giant says in order for public health systems to put the right kind of guidelines in place they need “better information on whether preventive measures are working and how the virus may spread”.

“We are putting in social distancing policies and currently we have no idea what they actually do in terms of subsequent epidemiology of the disease,” says Caroline Buckee, professor of epidemiology at Harvard.

“Policymakers want to know things like, ‘Which of these policies actually work? And how long are we going to have to do them?’”

Through a series of Disease Prevention Maps, Facebook will give researches a closer look at population movement and dynamics, the kind of information that could identify and influence the spread of disease.

User information is accurately combined to form:

-Co-location maps; “reveal the probability that people in one area will come in contact with people in another, helping illuminate where COVID-19 cases may appear next”.

-Movement range trends; “show at a regional level whether people are staying near home or visiting many parts of town, which can provide insights into whether preventive measures are headed in the right direction”.

-Social connectedness index; “shows friendships across states and countries, which can help epidemiologists forecast the likelihood of disease spread, as well as where areas hardest hit by COVID-19 might seek support”.

According to Facebook, researchers won’t share individual information with them and likewise, they won’t share personal information about users with researchers.

“We think that Facebook and the wider technology industry can and really must continue to find innovative ways to help health experts and authorities respond to the crisis,” says director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, Steve Satterfield.

“But we don’t think that these efforts have to compromise people’s privacy. We think we can assist in the public health response while also continuing to protect people’s data.”

Edited by Jenna Delport
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