Updated: April 3, 2020 4:56:31 pm
Google has started publishing its COVID-19 Community Mobility reports to give an insight into how lockdowns are impacting the ongoing health-crisis and whether they have been effective or not. This is crucial data, which could help public health officials map where these lockdowns and other measures have worked to flatten the curve. With the ongoing pandemic, health experts have recommended social distancing as one of the most effective tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is highly infectious.
Google is using location data from its Maps service to create these Community Mobility reports on COVID-19, though it says the data is anonymised and cannot be used to identify any single individual.
So what exactly is this Google COVID-19 Mobility report?
The page notes that, “Each Community Mobility Report is broken down by location and displays the change in visits to places like grocery stores and parks.” Google is utilising the feature of its Maps, which shows how busy a place might be, except this time it is showing whether there have been a dip in the number of visits. Each report is available in PDF format and can be downloaded from the site.
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These COVID-19 Community Mobility reports are available here, the url is google.com/covid19/mobility. The reports are available for 131 countries right now, though Google plans to expand these. The data is available in a PDF format.
Google says this data is “aggregated, anonymised data” and that public health officials told them that the data “could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.” Mobility trends traced by Google could indicate whether social distancing has worked in a particular area, as scientists could use that to correlate with the number of coronavirus cases in the same period.
The report looks at “movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential,” according to the company. It will show the trends over several weeks and the most recent information will be from 48-to-72 hours prior.
What does the Google trend for India show?
For India, the report shows that under retail and recreation, there has been a 77 per cent drop in mobility compared to the baseline. The drop can be seen sharply in the second half of March. India went into a 21-day lockdown from March 25 onward, though other parts of the country had declared lockdowns earlier as well.
India has also seen a negative 65 per cent trend when it comes to mobility at groceries and pharmacies, which is again more prominent from the period of lockdown. For parks, the dip is around 57 per cent, while for transit stations it is around 71 per cent. For work places, the mobility trends show a dip of 47 per cent, but for residential places, it shows an increase of 22 per cent, though that’s not surprising considering the country has a lockdown.
What about privacy in these Google Mobility reports?
Google says no personally identifiable information such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement will be made available as part of these reports. Nor it is being used to create these reports.
The company said it collaborating with select epidemiologists working on COVID-19 with updates to an existing aggregate, anonymised dataset that can be used to better understand and forecast the pandemic. The data in this will be anonymised as well. Google will use differential privacy, which adds artificial noise to the datasets without identifying any individual person.
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