Over the last couple of months, Google has been working on many ways to help respond to COVID-19, from providing authoritative info via Search, to supporting production of ventilators and personal protective equipment such as face-masks.
With reports saying that a third of the world’s population are under some kind of social distancing measures, we’ve heard from public health officials to consider how we could help here, too. Since there is no vaccine or proven treatment, social distancing is the primary way to flatten the curve. However, communities have not had a lot of insight into whether their guidance is working.
Google published COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports. Just like how people can use Google Maps to identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded, we’re using the same aggregated, anonymized data to provide high-level insights into what has changed.
How it works
- At launch anyone will be able to go to the COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports website, pick their country and download a PDF that charts the % increase or decrease of movement across different high-level categories of places—such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.
- The reports will show a percentage increase or decrease, rather than the absolute number of visits. And no personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point. The reports use aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time by geography.
- Google will release these reports globally, providing national trends for 130+ countries. At launch, some countries will also have state, province or regional-level insights which will be helpful because in many places that’s where public health decisions are made. Note that at this time, only country-level information will be included in this report for India. The team is working to add that additional layer of insight to more countries.
- They’re making an early release of these reports today to get feedback from the community before we begin publishing these reports on a regular basis.
How it could help: These reports could support decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Information about changes to essential trips can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings. That same kind of trend info on transportation hubs could tell authorities that they need to put on more buses or trains.
Privacy protections: Google invested to create a tool that everyone could use, rather than providing any underlying data. We did this so that the readers of the report could quickly and easily understand relevant information to the community response to social distancing, and that any information we shared was tailored specifically to that specific purpose. The reports also have a number of privacy preserving features:
- First, we do not share data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts. The insights we’re sharing in these reports published on our website is the same as what we’re making available to public health authorities and governments.
- Second, insights are created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the Location History setting, which is off by default. People can turn off this setting at any time and delete their history.
- And third, we took the additional step of utilizing a technology called differential privacy, that adds artificial noise to the datasets so that no individual person cannot ever be identified.
We know these are unprecedented times and so we’ll continue to evaluate these reports as we get feedback from public health officials, civil society groups, local governments and the community at large.