Written by Tech Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 3, 2020 4:43:09 pm
Google has started publishing its COVID-19 Community Mobility reports to give an insight into how lockdowns are impacting the ongoing health-crisis. This is crucial data, which could help public health officials map where these lockdowns and other measures have worked to flatten the curve. With the ongoing pandemic, health experts have recommended social distancing as one of the most effective tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is highly infectious.
Google is using location data from its Maps service to create these Community Mobility reports on COVID-19, though it says the data is anonymised and cannot be used to identify any single individual. So what exactly is this community report?
The page notes that, “Each Community Mobility Report is broken down by location and displays the change in visits to places like grocery stores and parks.” Google is utilising the feature of its Maps, which shows how busy a place might be, except this time it will be using it to show whether there have been a dip in the number of visits. This could indicate whether social distancing has worked in a particular area and scientists could use that to correlate with the number of coronavirus cases in the area.
Google Maps uses “aggregated, anonymised data” to showcase how busy a local business or mall or park might be, and the same technique is being used for the reports. The company says that public health officials told them that “this same type of aggregated, anonymised data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.”
These COVID-19 Community Mobility reports are available here, the url is google.com/covid19/mobility. The reports are available for across countries where Google Maps is available.
For India, the report shows that under “Retail & recreation”, there has been a 77 per cent drop in mobility compared to the baseline, and the drop can be seen sharply in the second half of March. India went into a 21-day lockdown from March 25 onward, though other parts of the country had declared lockdowns earlier as well.
India has also seen a negative 65 per cent trend when it comes to mobility at groceries and pharmacies, which is again more prominent from the period of lockdown. For parks, the dip is around 57 per cent, while for transit stations it is around 71 per cent. For work places, the mobility trends show a dip of 47 per cent, but for residential places, it shows an increase of 22 per cent, though that’s not surprising considering India is under a lockdown.
Google says the report is created looking at “aggregated, anonymized data 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.” It will show the trends over several weeks and the recent information will be from 48-to-72 hours prior.
The company says no personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, will be made available as part of these reports.
Google is hoping that data from its mobility reports will help health officials and governments with regards to decisions on how to manage the coronavirus pandemic. The post notes that “persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people who need to travel room to spread out for social distancing.”
Google is also collaborating with select epidemiologists working on COVID-19 with updates to an existing aggregate, anonymised dataset that can be used to better understand and forecast the pandemic. The data in this will be anonymised as well. Google says it will use differential privacy, which adds artificial noise to the datasets enabling high quality results without identifying any individual person.
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