Have YOU broken social distancing rules? Google Maps reveals data to battle COVID-19

Google has pledged to publicly track people’s movements over the course of the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the UK. The Californian company will publish details of the types of places that people are gathering in order to help authorities track movements on a county-by-county basis. Similar data will be available for 130 other countries worldwide.

The US company has promised to issue regular updates. The latest figures will refer to activity from the previous two or three days.

Google gathers the data from its Google Maps app, which tracks your location whenever you use the app to navigate – or search for local venues offering takeaways and deliveries, as well as its other mobile and desktop apps that frequently request location data to personalise the experience and results.

Google typically uses this data to reveal when museums, restaurants, shops and other places of interest are busiest. This lets customers avoid the crowds. It also helps Google revise its suggested driving routes to help motorists avoid traffic jams.

However, following the public health crisis, Google will breakdown these readings to reveal how busy a number of the most popular locations are compared to earlier this year before the lockdown measures were introduced.

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Google will single-out the following categories – retail and recreation, grocery and pharmacy, parks, beaches and plazas, bus, subway and train stations, office buildings and other places of work, and finally, residential.

Google believes the information will help public health officials to track the impact of lockdown measures, which have been introduced in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus – which has infected more than a million people worldwide, in order to help manage the outbreak.

Google says individuals’ privacy will be preserved. So, you do not need to worry about your personal location data being identifiable by officials.


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However, that’s exactly what a forthcoming app from the NHS could do. The smartphone app, which is being developed by the health service’s digital arm – known as NHSX – alongside academic partners, is in advanced stages of evaluation. The app is designed to instantly trace close contacts of anyone who has coronavirus symptoms – advising you to self-isolate if you have passed close to someone with COVID-19.

Addressing its own efforts, Google stated: “This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.

“Similarly, persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people… room to spread out for social distancing.”

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