The company said it plans to publish a series of “Community Mobility Reports” to show the types of places people are visiting across 131 countries and regions. The first report was published on Friday.
The reports, which contain data from two to three days earlier, intend to spot trends in how people are behaving and responding to social distancing. Broken down by country and then by region, the reports will show if people are headed to retail and grocery stores, pharmacies, parks, workplaces and more. It’ll also show how busy these places were before the pandemic.
The company said the findings are “created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the location history setting, which is off by default” in Google’s services.
It added that it would not release information that could be used to identify its users, such as individual location or contacts.
But Google’s move to release location data highlights concerns around privacy. According to Mark Skilton, director of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network at Warwick Business School in the UK, Google’s decision to use public data “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.”
“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,” Skilton said.