On Friday, Google published the first in a series of “Community Mobility Reports” hoping that “tracking movement trends” will help “shape and inform governments’ and public health officials’ response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the company said in a statement. You’ll be able to track people as they venture forth to work, shopping, parks or the beach, along with how busy each location was before the crisis.
Tracking the movement of the herd
Google already knows where you are right now. They admit in the statement that they’re “publicly releasing the data” they are “already collecting” about your every movement. For the duration of the crisis they’ll by putting it on the internet. There’s no need to panic, they assure. The displays are “created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the location history setting, which is off by default.”
You won’t be able to find out where your ex is now, or even where they were three days ago, but all-knowing Google is releasing the data delayed by two or three days. What the various reports will show are the types of places people are visiting to “spot trends in how people are behaving and responding to social distancing.” A total of 131 countries are further broken down by region.
Google promises not to tell health officials if you break quarantine or anything else embarrassing. The statement assures users “it would not release information that could be used to identify its users, such as individual location or contacts.”
They want the data to be helpful. “This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”
Privacy experts give qualified approval
Still, despite all the promises, the public tends to have a few privacy concerns. Mark Skilton, an Artificial Intelligence researcher admits the controversial movement tracking decision “raises a key conflict between the need for mass surveillance to effectively combat the spread of coronavirus and the issues of confidentiality, privacy, and consent concerning any data obtained.” He sniffed it and thinks it’s okay. If safeguards are in place, he agrees it could be extremely useful.
“Covid-19 is an emergency on such a huge scale that, if anonymity is managed appropriately, internet giants and social media platforms could play a responsible part in helping to build collective crowd intelligence for social good, rather than profit.”