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Google reveals who is breaking lockdown, thanks to its location data tracking

New Google report uses location data to reveal if people are obeying social distancing rules
(Image credit: Google)

Google has released a COVID-19 Community Mobility Report report, detailing the changes in activity across 131 countries using location data from users' phones. Google has said that the aim of this new report is 'to provide insights into what has changed in response to policies aimed at combating COVID-19.' 

Mobility trend data is divided across six categories: retail and recreation, grocery and pharmacy, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential. Google's COVID-19 report is available for all to read is available for anyone to read, and data for the US is divided by state. Across America as a whole, there is a 12% increase in mobility trends for places of residence. The most volatile category from state-to-state is use of parks, with some places such as Ohio seeing a dramatic increase of 118%, and others such as New York seeing a decrease of 47% from regular baseline figures. 

How does the US compare? 

From country to country, data roughly aligns with the government-enforced measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Italy, for example, saw a decease of 94% recreation and retail visits and 90% visits to parks after a nationwide lockdown was strictly enforced on March 9. 

The UK, after a lockdown was enforced on March 23, saw a decrease of 85% in recreation and retail activity, and a 15% increase in residential mobility trends. 

Comparatively, the US performs somewhat poorly in terms of lockdown adherence. However, this is likely due to variation in state-to-state guidelines and what some have deemed a delayed reaction in tackling the coronavirus outbreak. 

There are now over 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide - a statistic which has increased tenfold in the last month. The US is currently considered the epicenter of the epidemic, with 235,747 confirmed cases. 

Data privacy concerns raised

Although some may be wary of Google publishing users’ anonymized location data, it insists that this is to help public health authorities combat the spread of COVID-19, and calculate how effectively health measures are being implemented.

The report states: 'We calculate these changes using the same kind of aggregated and anonymized data used to show popular times for places in Google Maps.'

'These reports were developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and protecting people’s privacy. No personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.'

The relationship between public health enforcement and data privacy is being tested at present, with the EU Commission’s Values and Transparency Vice-President, Věra Jourová, tweeting "technology can offer smart solutions, but privacy should not be undermined in the process."

66% of US adults believe that the potential risks of personal data protection by the government outweigh the benefits. However, the best smartphones enable users to opt in and out of sharing such data with Google. Location History is off by default, so unless you have actively enabled this to be shared with Google, your data will not be used in monitoring mobility trends.

Those concerned for their data privacy should be aware of major coronavirus scams currently circulating, and consider installing one of the best VPN services to keep their location secret.