Home Tech News COVID-19: US government wants access to location data from smartphone users

COVID-19: US government wants access to location data from smartphone users

by Tejas Dhawan

With the help of location data from Google and Facebook users, the US government wants to monitor the spread of the corona virus. The companies are reportedly in talks with the U.S. government about the use of anonymous and aggregated data.

Google, Facebook and other technology companies are in talks with the U.S. government to provide users with location information. With this, the US government wants to monitor the outbreak of the novel corona virus.

With the anonymously aggregated data, the US government wants to check whether people keep enough distance from each other to curb the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

The strategy could be helpful in examining transmission trends for the virus. However, it also comes at a time when large technology companies have already given intensive consideration to their data protection guidelines and the pool of personal information they have about consumers.

Facebook does not explicitly say whether it works with the U.S. government, but it does refer to previous population density work it did with researchers at Harvard and the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.

“Disease prevention maps have been helping organizations respond to health emergencies for almost a year, and we’ve heard from a number of governments that they support this work,” said Laura McGorman, leader of Facebook’s Data for Good initiative, in a statement . “In the context of the corona virus, researchers and nonprofits can use the maps created with aggregated and anonymized data that people may share with others to understand and combat the spread of the virus.

Google did not respond to a request, but said the Washington Post, which first reported the matter that a partnership would not involve sharing a person’s movement or whereabouts. “We are investigating ways that aggregated, anonymized location information could help fight COVID-19. An example could help health authorities determine the impact of social distance, much like how we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns on Google Maps, ”a Post spokesman said.

Protective measures against COVID-19

In order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the Federal Center for Health Education has published numerous videos.

A similar strategy has been reported to be implemented in other parts of the world affected by the virus. Israeli government officials approved a plan to use cell phone data to track the whereabouts of people infected with the coronavirus and those they may have had contact with.

On Sunday evening, Google’s sister company Verily, which focuses on healthcare and life sciences, launched a website to give people information about coronavirus screening, although it’s initially limited to two test sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. The launch followed a series of confusing announcements from Google and President Donald Trump last week.

Other technology companies that they claim are in talks with government agencies to use their technology to fight the corona virus include Clearview AI, a face recognition startup, and Palantir, a data analytics company. Clearview AI, which has come under fire for selling its facial recognition app to U.S. law enforcement agencies, is in talks with state governments about the use of its technology to track infected patients, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In the meantime, Palantir, which is said to have played a role in the search for Osama bin Laden, is working with the United States Central Department of Health (CDC) on data collection and integration to track the disease, the journal said.

After initial reluctance, the US authorities are now increasingly reacting to the spread of the novel corona virus. Schools were closed, sporting events were canceled, and most public gatherings were banned. In Silicon Valley, where many of the major technology companies are based, a curfew was imposed until April 7th on Monday.

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