US officials, tech companies in talks to use location data to fight COVID-19

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2020
U.S. officials are currently in active talks with Google, Facebook, and other tech companies about the possibility of leveraging Americans' smartphone location data to help fight the coronavirus, a new report indicates.

Tech companies and the U.S. government are looking to leverage smartphone location data to help fight COVID-19.
Tech companies and the U.S. government are looking to leverage smartphone location data to help fight COVID-19.


Despite Apple's pro-privacy efforts, there still have been various ways for app makers, internet service providers and federal agencies to obtain iPhone location data. Now, tech firms and the U.S. government are hashing out whether that data can be used for public health purposes.

More specifically, the U.S. government is discussing the use of location data to track and map the spread of the outbreak with Google and Facebook, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. For example, aggregated and anonymized location data could be used to help experts understand the patterns of people's movements and predict potential virus hotspots.

The idea was apparently proposed during a private meeting at the White House on Sunday, in which a task force of tech executives and investors presented a range of ideas about disease mapping and telemedicine.

Still, that idea may not sit well with Americans already cautious of the ways they're being tracked. But the Post's sources stressed that the data isn't going to be used to create a government database.

In the past, tech companies like Facebook have provided similar anonymized data to researchers in the form of statistics.

This week, a coalition of medical professionals, disease experts and tech executives penned an open letter urging technology companies to play their part in fighting COVID-19.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has already fostered unusually close cooperation between tech companies and government entities. Corporations are working to together to clamp down on the spread of misinformation and President Trump on Friday touted a Google-developed website that could help users guide users through the coronavirus testing process.

Privacy advocates caution that there's a balance between civil liberties and pandemic response. On Monday, The New York Times reported about the Israeli government tapping a secret database of cellphone data, originally intended for counterterrorism, to track people who had contracted COVID-19.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 7
    Still, that idea may not sit well with Americans already cautious of the ways they're being tracked. But the Post's sources stressed that the data isn't going to be used to create a government database.
    I know about 5 people, personally, that are cautious/concerned about being tracked all the time. Pretty much everyone else seems not to give a shit.

    While I can see that this is a good idea on one hand, and believe that the Post’s sources believe the data wouldn’t be used to create a government database, I won’t be at all surprised when a few years down the road it turns out that, yes, some government agency did create a database.
    leavingthebiggcornchip
  • Reply 2 of 7
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 5,662member
    This would be an excellent move and tied in with other data and AI, would be a massive help.

    BlueDot used AI to detect the current problem before the Chinese had acknowledged it.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 3 of 7
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,835member
    Still, that idea may not sit well with Americans already cautious of the ways they're being tracked. But the Post's sources stressed that the data isn't going to be used to create a government database.
    I know about 5 people, personally, that are cautious/concerned about being tracked all the time. Pretty much everyone else seems not to give a shit.

    While I can see that this is a good idea on one hand, and believe that the Post’s sources believe the data wouldn’t be used to create a government database, I won’t be at all surprised when a few years down the road it turns out that, yes, some government agency did create a database.

    I’d love to know how the hell they'd be able to use all that data without creating a database... 
    unbeliever2chasm
  • Reply 4 of 7
    TomPMRITomPMRI Posts: 28member
    Since I don’t have the FaceBook app on any of my devices, and block any location data access to Google, hopefully the Government will not know where I am. 
  • Reply 5 of 7
    I see more people:-
    1) Simply leaving their phone at home, switched off.
    or
    2) Carrying it with them but in Flight Mode and only taking it out of that when needing to do something.

    Both are great ways to dissassociating yourself from the endless stream of updates which will only get worse as more people supposed work from hom on Social Media.

    Take back control of your life!
  • Reply 6 of 7
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,264member
    TomPMRI said:
    Since I don’t have the FaceBook app on any of my devices, and block any location data access to Google, hopefully the Government will not know where I am. 
    Read it and weep:
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/19/opinion/location-tracking-cell-phone.html

    But yeah, everyone should read this whole feature — it's *amazing*. Even you morons who think NYT is fake news should give this one a shot.
    gatorguychasm
  • Reply 7 of 7
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,207member
    Perhaps it should go much further:
    S. Korea quickly brought the virus under control by a combination of effective programs for testing and tracking:

    First they instituted a comprehensive and highly effective testing program that identified carriers fairly quickly.  But equally as important, they then used all available means to track where that person had been and who they had been in contact with so they could follow-up.   For that they used GPS data, CCTV, cell phone locations, etc to back track the infected person and further contain the spread of the virus.

    As a result, societal and economic impact of the virus has been limited in that country.

    Compare that to Italy which instituted neither program even though they had a similar outbreak at about the same time.  And that country is now in lockdown while the virus runs out of control and overwhelms their previously highly regarded healthcare system.

    In a national emergency it is apparent some measures are worthwhile if done correctly and for the right reasons.
    gatorguy
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