April 06, 2020, Kathmandu
What exactly is Google capable of? What better time than a global pandemic – to really give the world a clear glimpse of Google’s capability. Google is publicly releasing the data it’s already collecting about the movement of people amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The tech giant published a blog announcing to publish “Community Mobility Reports”. Now, what it aims to do is help researchers and policymakers help fight against the coronavirus.
The reports will show the types of places people are visiting across 131 countries and regions. They already have published the first report on Friday.
The reports intend to show the trends in how people are behaving and responding to social distance. And, in some countries like Nepal, lockdown.
You can clearly see if people are headed to retail and grocery stores, pharmacies, parks, workplaces, and more. Similarly, the reports will show how busy these places were before the pandemic.
Google’s Mobility Reports suggest that Nepal’s mobility curve is on a sharp decline.
Nepal’s mobility report
Google says the report will be available for the duration of the pandemic.
Combating COVID-19 with Location Tracking
The company says the findings were analyzed with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users. And, not just from any users.
In fact, the reports reflect the mobility of users who have turned on the location history settings (which is off by default).
Google claims that it would not release any information that may be used to identify the users.
“We hope these reports will help support decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Google. “This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”
However, the release of locations through tracking highlights privacy concerns.
Mark Skilton, Director of the AIIN, says, “Google’s decision to use public data raises a key conflict between the need for mass surveillance to effectively combat the spread of coronavirus and the issues of confidentiality, privacy, and consent concerning any data obtained.”
It would be a huge win for internet giants and social media platforms if they can manage anonymity during the pandemic. In fact, it would be a responsible part of helping society for good rather than focusing on profit.
Facebook has also confirmed that it is working on similar efforts using location tracking.
The analyzed data and reports may prove useful to policymakers and researchers to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Although, it might leave people doubting the implementation of privacy policies in light of Google collection information about them.
Experts believe that during the time of crisis, people normally would consent to this. However, after the crisis debates regarding its principle may arise.