A woman wearing a face mask takes a selfie on a walkway in Bangkok on Friday. AFP
Facebook, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings. Infectious disease specialists have said analyzing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.
Google, which infers demographics from users’ internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to including additional information and countries in follow-up reports.
“These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies,” Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post.
Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.
China, Singapore, South Korea and other countries have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties.
Data in Google’s reports come from users who enabled Google’s “Location History” feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.
Consultations with officials in California, Texas, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization helped inform data shared, Google said.
The company declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Google will begin to allow some advertisers to run ads relating to the coronavirus on its platforms, in a change to its rules on ads around “sensitive events,” according to a copy of a memo to advertising clients seen by Reuters.
The memo, sent from Google’s head of industry for elections Mark Beatty and first reported by Axios, said Google is beginning to phase in advertisers who want to run ads related to COVID-19, prioritizing those advertisers that are working directly on this issue.
This week, it will allow ads from government entities, hospitals, medical providers, and NGOs that want to get relevant information out to the public.
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