Facebook said it is launching new tools that will help health researchers to track and combat the spread of COVID-19 by using anonymized location data from users.
The social media giant said its ‘Data for Good’ program is developing Disease Prevention Maps that provide details on how population movements around regions are influencing the spread of the disease. The maps are now being used by researchers and non-profits to help determine where COVID-19 is likely to spread.
Facebook is launching three new tools for the Disease Prevention Maps to help disease forecasting efforts and to inform protective measures.
Facebook said that its co-location maps reveal the probability that people in one area will come in contact with people in another, helping provide information as to where COVID-19 cases may appear next.
The Movement Range Trends show at a regional level whether people are staying home or visiting different parts of the town. The trends can provide insights into whether preventive measures are headed in the right direction.
The Social Connectedness Index shows friendships across states and countries, which can help epidemiologists forecast the likelihood of disease spread, as well as identify the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 where people might need support.
Facebook noted that as the Disease Prevention Maps aggregate information from the company, it is taking steps to obscure people’s identities and reduce the risk of people being re-identified. The company’s datasets will only show information at a city or county level, and not the patterns of specific individuals.
Facebook is asking its users in the U.S. to participate in a voluntary survey from Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, which is designed to help health researchers identify COVID-19 hotspots earlier.
The company said that some users will see a link at the top of their news feed to the optional, off-Facebook survey.
Among other tech giants, Google is also using aggregated, anonymized data in Google Maps to show how busy certain types of places are and to help identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded.
The company said the data will help public health officials to chart movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.
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