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Facebook is providing researchers with more anonymous location data that could help them determine if people are staying at home and predict where the new coronavirus will likely spread.
This decision shows how the social network uses the large amount of data it collects from its nearly 2.5 billion active users per month to fight diseases such as COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. This is how Facebook used data in the past to create disease preventionaimed at fighting contagious diseases such as the flu which can be spread by human contact.
Using location data can make some users uncomfortable given the privacy scandals that plagued the world’s largest social network. Facebook said it does not identify individual users and provides aggregated information at the city or county level.also announced last week that it is using location data to help researchers see if people are far from society.
Monday, Facebook unveiled three new types of disease prevention cards as part of its Data for Good program. A map shows the probability of people in one area coming into contact with people in another. This could help researchers determine where the new COVID-19 cases will appear next. Another map shows whether people in certain regions stay at home, helping researchers determine if social distancing warrants are working. The third map shows friendships between states and countries, information that could also help track the possible spread of COVID-19.
Facebook is also partnering with the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, which is conducting a 3-5 minute survey asking people to report their symptoms and location to help track the spread of COVID-19. Some Facebook users in the U.S. will see a link to this optional survey at the top of their newsfeed.
Facebook said the university would not share the survey responses with the social network. Facebook also said it would not share user identity information with researchers and would instead use a random identification number.
Facebook also shared data with the Harvard University School of Public Health and Taiwan’s Tsing Hua National University to help them predict the spread of the coronavirus.