Thanks to the lack of trust that tech companies have provided us through all their data and privacy violations, we normally have this assumption that data is bad. Especially when companies track a lot of it. The truth is that capturing a lot of data has its benefits, both to companies and to people. It’s just what they do with it that counts, along with the necessary transparency in how they do it too.
Facebook is using the current COVID-19 crisis to show how it can use its data for good to analyse movement patterns of its users in an effort to try and understand the spread of the virus and hopefully allow governments and other companies to plan how best to tackle and curb the spread of the pandemic.
Part of its Data for Good initiative, Facebook is making use of aggregated, anonymised data from its apps to inform academic research and has granted access to three new maps for forecasting the disease’s spread and revealing whether residents of a given region are staying at home. The latter is something similar to what Google is also currently doing using its own location services to track movement and see where people are staying at home and where not, allowing authorities to act.
The company will also prompt Facebook users to participate in a survey from Carnegie Mellon University that asks people to self-report any disease symptoms. The responses, which will be anonymous, could help researchers understand new hotspots as they develop or see where the disease has begun to retreat. Carnegie Mellon will not share any symptom information back to Facebook, the company said.
It does all sound a little scary that our tech companies are tracking our data and using it to monitor our whereabouts, but it is something which we have been allowing them to do for years and this time at least it can get used for something positive and hopefully save many lives.
Last Updated: April 7, 2020