Google follow-up reports show how Albertans changed their moves to stay at home

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Google probably has more access to information about people’s whereabouts than any other company or government on earth.

Now, this gives the public a snapshot of this aggregated and anonymized data to show how mobility has changed in different regions due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

In Alberta, these data show that government recommendations and restrictions keep a large percentage of the population at home – but that a slightly higher percentage of Albertans continue to venture to work or the grocery store, and many fewer visit local parks, compared to Canadians as a whole.

Google Maps collects data to show on its website how busy public places are on a typical day – what it provides so that users can see when a dog park may be less crowded, or when a restaurant needs to enter a restaurant without reservation.

But new reports on community mobility, released last week, show increases or decreases in percentage points of visits to categories of places like workplaces, grocery stores, or residences – Google said it hoped that the data could inform the decisions of public health officials.

Want to see an enlarged version of the graphic below? Click here.

The movement between February 16 and March 29 was compared to a baseline, the median value for the corresponding day of the week from January 3 to February 6.

Here is how Alberta traffic fell during this period:

  • Visits to retail and leisure businesses fell 55%.
  • Visits to grocery stores and pharmacies fell 29%.
  • Park visits fell 23%.
  • Transit station visits decreased by 63%.
  • Visits to the workplace decreased by 41%.
  • Residence visits increased by 13%.

These visits began to drop sharply between March 8 and March 21, when the number of cases in the province fell from five to 226.

During this period, schools and day care centers were closed, bans on large rallies were announced, and the province declared a public health emergency.

It ignores many of the changes that have occurred since the province has now surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 cases, such as the closure of non-essential businesses.

Although these numbers may seem high, the hardest hit countries like Italy and Spain saw restaurant and theater visits drop 94%. And in the United States, the numbers vary greatly from state to state.

Google said that its reports would be updated regularly, and the data would be two to three days before the publication of each report.

Although the data is anonymized, Google has been criticized in the past for its lack of transparency and consent on how it collects location data.

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