Technology

Facebook Sharing Location Data With COVID-19 Researchers

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Facebook has released new tools to provide location data to researchers working who are to understand and overcome the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. Facebook’s maps on population movements are already in use by researchers and nonprofit organizations responding to the outbreak. To further support their efforts, the social media company is releasing three new tools, collectively named Disease Prevention Maps.

The Disease Prevention Maps use users’ location data to show how population dynamics influence the spread of the coronavirus. They come in the form of co-location maps, movement range trends, and a “social connectedness” index.

The world’s largest social network shares anonymized, aggregated location information as part of an effort to study disease outbreaks, and more than 150 organizations partner with the company to use that data for research. Facebook is adding new data points for researchers fighting COVID-19, including information about whether people are staying at home, and other material that details “the probability that people in one area will come in contact with people in another,” the company said Monday.

At Harvard University, researchers are using the information to measure whether the government recommended “social-distancing” measures are actually helping to decrease the spread of the virus, which has already infected a confirmed 1.3 million people worldwide.

Facebook said the tools use aggregate data to protect people’s privacy. The co-location maps show the probability of people from different areas coming in contact with each other. The data could be used by researchers to predict where the next coronavirus cases may appear.

Movement range trends show, at a regional level, whether people are staying at home or moving around, to gauge the effectiveness of preventive measures like sheltering in place. Finally, the social connectedness index tracks friendships across states and countries, to forecast the chances of coronavirus spreading and to reveal which hard-hit areas may seek support.

The Disease Prevention Maps, according to Facebook, are part of the social media company’s Data for Good program, which shares data to nonprofit organizations, researchers, and communities to help address issues and create solutions. Facebook has also launched a survey in the U.S. that will appear at the top of the News Feed.

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