Coronavirus: Google and Facebook could deliver location data from smartphones to detect crowds


The Washington Post newspaper claims that the US government is in talks with Facebook, Google and other technology companies about the possibility of using smartphone location data to combat the Coronavirus COVIT-19 pandemic.

More specifically, the US government wants to make use of geolocation data from smartphones to monitor whether people are keeping a safe distance. For example, it could be in use to arrest people trying to conduct large-scale meetings. The data would be anonymized and aggregated, according to sources in the Washington Post.

Coronavirus: Google and Facebook could deliver location data from smartphones to detect crowds

Facebook has neither confirmed nor denied that it is in talks with the US government on the use of location information from smartphones to combat the coronavirus crisis.

There is no confirmation from Google also regarding discussions with the US government. But they said that they were looking for ways for tracking data that could be in use to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against COVID-19. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps,” spokesman Johnny Luu said in a statement, stressing any such partnership “would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”

At the White House, an official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy says that the government is looking for ways to glean key insights for covid-19 modeling efforts. The official added those insights might “help public health officials, researchers, and scientists improve their understanding of the spread of covid-19 and transmission of the disease.”

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A task force created by tech executives, entrepreneurs and investors presented a range of ideas around disease mapping and telehealth to the White House during a private meeting Sunday. The discussions included representatives from tech giants, including Apple and Google; investors led by the New York-based firm Hangar and well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway; public-health leaders from Harvard University; and smaller telehealth start-ups like Ro, two people said.

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