Facebook, joining Google, said it will start providing anonymous location data about users’ and relationships to help researchers better anticipate where the coronavirus might spread.
According to a post by the Facebook head of health KX Jin and Laura McGorman of its Data for Good arm, the social media giant is announcing three new kinds of mapping tools that aim to help researchers understand the potential for the spread of coronavirus cases, while still protecting people’s privacy.
“Hospitals are working to get the right resources, and public health systems are looking to put the right guidelines in place,” Jin and McGorman said.
“To do that, they need better information on whether preventive measures are working and how the virus may spread.”
The first kind of mapping tool that Facebook is providing researchers include “co-location maps”, which keeps track of the probability that a person from one area will come into contact with a person from somewhere else, thus creating the potential for the virus to spread. This can help predict where cases may appear next.
The second tool is a type of map that tracks movement range trends. These maps will help reseachers analyze how much the population of a certain area is traveling, to assess where social distancing and self-isolation measures are being more or less effective.
Facebook is also providing an index of friendships crossing state or national borders to allow epidemiologists to forecast how the virus might spread given where people might return to, in order seek support.