Facebook, Google, and Apple fight COVID-19 while asserting their control over our privacy
Technology helps fight the pandemic today but reveals a future without personal data protection.
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Technology giants are joining the fight against the coronavirus to give us some of the user data they have been unofficially tracking all along.
Facebook, Google, and Apple have all published maps and dashboards in recent weeks with the information of millions of users showing how the disease is spreading. Each display reflects the unique type of data that each technology company is willing to collect from users.
Google and Apple have also launched tools that show how mobile people are in specific areas and how much that’s decreased in the midst of government-ordered closures. In both cases, the companies obtained the data from people using Google Maps and Apple Maps, as well as location data from Android and iPhone users.
Mark Zuckerberg's company, Facebook, published a map showing how many people are reporting symptoms of COVID-19 in each county in the United States, collecting data through a survey of millions of social network users. In addition, this week, the company released a mobility dashboard that aggregates information about the movements of people from private business conglomerates, as well as public resources such as satellite imagery and census data.
Zuckerberg said Facebook’s 2 billion users prompted him to help researchers conduct comprehensive surveys to better understand the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Facebook is uniquely suited to run these surveys because we serve a global community of billions of people and can do statistically accurate sampling", Zuckerberg wrote in a statement Monday morning.
“We do this in a privacy-protective way where only the researchers at Carnegie Mellon see individual survey responses -- and Facebook only sees aggregated data.”
Zuckerberg said the data collected from Facebook users could help health authorities and governments decide how and when to reopen certain parts of the world in the coming months.
For all displays and maps, the companies insist that the data is encrypted and cannot be traced back to the end-user.