Smartphone Location Data Used to Fight Coronavirus: Good or Bad Idea?

March 10, 2020

The U.S. Government has met with representatives of some of the largest tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, to see if there’s a way to use their data to help combat coronavirus. 

According to several sources cited by the Washington Post, the data would be used for determining where the virus has spread and helping to estimate where it’s likely to spread in the future. It also would help the government determine if people are socially isolating as instructed, and when hospitals or other medical centers are overloaded. 

Although current sources say the data would be anonymized and would not be used to track individuals, privacy advocates are worried that it could lead to a new (lower) standard in privacy, allowing the government to have access to how Americans move around and where they are. While sources assured The Post that there was no plan to create a national database of citizen movements, there is skepticism around the project.

At the same time, the need for more information around the coronavirus spread could be essential to containing it, say advocates. And any information provided may be helpful in reducing the number of deaths and hospitalizations in the future.

Most of the technology representatives and government officials declined to comment or did not reply to The Post’s requests for more information, although there was some talk about users needing to opt in to having their data used as part of the project.