Facebook shares location data with coronavirus researchers


Facebook has released new tools to provide location data to researchers working to understand and overcome coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Facebook’s maps on population movements are already in use by researchers and non-profit organizations in their response to the outbreak. To further support their efforts, the social media company is releasing three new tools, named Disease Prevention Maps.

The Disease Prevention Maps use user’s location data to show how population dynamics influence the spread of the coronavirus and come in the form of co-location maps, movement range trends, and a “social connectedness” index.

Facebook said the tools use aggregate data to protect people’s privacy.

The co-location maps show the probability of people from different areas coming in contact with each other. Thie data could be used by researchers to predict where the next coronavirus cases may appear.

Facebook Co-Location Map

Movement range trends show, at a regional level, whether people are staying at home or moving around, to gauge the effectiveness of preventive measures like sheltering in place. Finally, the social connectedness index tracks friendships across states and countries, to forecast the chances of coronavirus spreading and to reveal which hard-hit areas may seek support.

Facebook Social Connectedness Index

The Disease Prevention Maps, according to Facebook, are part of the social media company’s Data for Good program, which shares data to non-profit organizations, researchers, and communities to help address issues and create solutions.

Facebook has also launched a survey in the US that will appear at the top of the News Feed.

The poll, run by Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, will ask users to self-report what possible coronavirus symptoms they’re suffering. The data from this survey will generate new insights into the health crisis, including heat maps of respondents’ symptoms, Facebook said. If the survey results prove to be helpful in managing resources and determining parts of society that may be re-opened, it may be expanded to other parts of the world.

The launch of the three new location data tools follow Facebook’s efforts in stopping the spread of misinformation about COVID-19. The company launched the Coronavirus Information Center, which sources updates from the World Health Organization and other health authorities, on the main Facebook app. Messenger, meanwhile, rolled out the Coronavirus Community Hub, which provides people with tips and resources.

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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