U.S. Government Exploring Ways to Use Smartphone Location Data to Track Coronavirus Spread

The United States government is in talks with Facebook, Google, and other tech companies about how location data from smartphones can be used to combat the coronavirus, reports The Washington Post.


Tech companies could aggregate anonymous location data that could be used to map the spread of the coronavirus and determine whether social distancing is an effective virus mitigation strategy. The discussions, and the project, are in the early stages.

Facebook executives have said that the government is interested in understanding the patterns of people's movements, which can be provided through Facebook data. Facebook has in the past offered this kind of information in the form of disease prevention maps for health researchers, and officials could use the data to predict hotspots and where to allocate health resources.

"We're encouraged by American technology companies looking to leverage aggregate, anonymized data to glean key insights for COVID-19 modeling efforts," said an official with the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Government sources say they are "not building a government database" and that insights gleaned from location data could "help public health officials, researchers, and scientists improve their understanding of the spread of COVID19 and transmission of the disease."

As The Washington Post points out, using smartphone location data in this way could make some Americans uncomfortable, depending on how it's implemented. The data that Facebook provides for other disease tracking projects limits the granularity of location data to a third of a mile, with no data provided about an individual's movement.

"You're trying to predict the probability that a group of people in Prince George's County might interact with a group of people from D.C.," said Laura McGorman, who leads the project. Such a prediction could offer clues for how infections might travel.

Multiple tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, met with White House officials last week, where they were asked to help the government with its response to the growing outbreak.

Google is now working on an informational coronavirus website that's set to launch in the near future, which comes after President Trump mistakenly announced that Google was working on a comprehensive site that would allow people to check symptoms, arrange tests, and get test results.

Verily, a Google company, had planned to launch a coronavirus-focused website limited to the Bay Area of California, and the purpose of the site was misstated, leading to confusion. The Bay Area site has since launched, but Google is also now working on a site offering "COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources."

White House officials, tech experts, and health officials have also created a portal of more than 29,000 coronavirus research papers that let AI tools scan and analyze data to discover new insights.

More information on the plans to use smartphone location data for combating the coronavirus can be found in The Washington Post's full article.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
27 weeks ago
This won't end well.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 weeks ago
We don’t want this. Once The G gets power, it never, EVER lets it go.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 weeks ago
You mean the same government that is trying to covertly pass an anti end to end encryption bill while this is going on while no one is paying attention?

Don't trust this for a second.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 weeks ago
It's amazing how "we" jump from 0 to 100 in times of a crisis, then look back 10-15 years later and ask how we got here. Its decisions and actions like this.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 weeks ago


Most posters *above seem to have missed one word while reading it.

Edit: *And under

It’s funny that you think you can be anonymous on your phone.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 weeks ago
Oh boy.... not building a government database :rolleyes:
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...

iOS 14 Picture in Picture No Longer Working With YouTube's Mobile Website in Safari [Without Premium]

Friday September 18, 2020 12:21 pm PDT by
Apple in iOS 14 added Picture in Picture to the iPhone, a feature designed to let you watch a video in a small screen on your device while you continue to do other things on the phone. When Picture in Picture was working with YouTube The YouTube app doesn't support Picture in Picture, but up until yesterday there was a functional workaround that allowed videos from YouTube.com to be watched...

Hands-On With the New Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

Friday September 18, 2020 1:19 pm PDT by
Today's the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we'd give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch. Apple Watch Series 6 & Apple Watch SE Hands-On! When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like...

Here's How You Can Download iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Around the World [It's Out]

Wednesday September 16, 2020 2:36 am PDT by
Apple's official public release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 dropped on Wednesday, September 16, just a day after the company released the Golden Master to third-party developers. Also set to be made available to the general public for the first time are watchOS 7 and tvOS 14. Getting Started With iOS 14 Video Click image to watch iOS 14 Getting Started While that's left a lot of developers...

Apple Releases iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 With Home Screen Redesign, App Library, Compact UI, Translate App, Scribble Support, App Clips, and More

Wednesday September 16, 2020 12:48 pm PDT by
Apple has released iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the newest operating system updates designed for the iPhone and iPad. As with all of Apple's software updates, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 can be downloaded for free. iOS 14 is available on the iPhone 6s and later, while iPadOS 14 is available on the iPad Air 2 and later. The updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To ...

iOS 14.2 Beta Adds New Shazam Music Recognition Feature for Control Center

Thursday September 17, 2020 3:36 pm PDT by
Apple today released the first beta of iOS 14.2 to developers for testing purposes, and the new update introduces a Music Recognition control for the Control Center. The new feature lets you discover music playing around you and it recognizes the music playing with in apps, even when you're wearing AirPods. Songs pop up as notifications, and you can tap to listen in Apple Music....

Apple Updates AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro Firmware to Version 3A283

Monday September 14, 2020 11:24 am PDT by
Apple today released new 3A283 firmware updates for the second-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The second-generation AirPods are being updated from the 2D15 firmware they were previously running, while the AirPods Pros are being updated from the 2D27 firmware they had installed previously. Apple does not provide details on what's included in refreshed firmware so we don't know what's ...

Rumor Report Card: Assessing the Accuracy of Leaks After Apple's Event

Friday September 18, 2020 12:57 pm PDT by
Apple hosted its virtual "Time Flies" event this week, where it introduced four new products, including the Apple Watch Series 6, lower-cost Apple Watch SE, a 10.9-inch iPad Air with an all-screen design, and an updated 10.2-inch iPad with a faster A12 Bionic chip. As expected, there were no new iPhones, which are believed to be coming in October instead. Apple also announced that it will be ...

Epic Games Announces 'Fortnite: Save the World' Will No Longer Be Playable on macOS

Friday September 18, 2020 4:50 am PDT by
Epic Games has announced that "Fortnite: Save the World" will no longer be playable on macOS, after Apple terminated Epic Games' developer account. Fortnite has been in violation of the ‌App Store‌ rules since August 13, when it introduced a direct payment option that skirted Apple's in-app purchase system by allowing payments directly to ‌Epic Games‌. Shortly after Epic blatantly...

Deals: Cellular Carriers Introduce First Offers on Apple Watch Series 6 and SE

Friday September 18, 2020 7:43 am PDT by
With the launch of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE today, cellular carriers have now introduced special offers for these new wearable devices. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. Starting with AT&T, if you buy one Apple Watch Series 3, Series...