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Facebook Rolls out Tools to Pinpoint Regions Not Following Social Distancing Rules

By Donna Fuscaldo - Apr 7, 2020 at 12:43PM

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Facebook is using the data it collects on its users to help researchers predict where the next surge in COVID-19 cases will be.

Facebook (META -3.82%) is aiming to help healthcare officials pinpoint locations where people aren't following social distancing rules using the location data it collects on its more than 2.5 billion monthly active users. 

The social media giant said this week it's creating more Disease Prevention Maps that reveal how people are moving and the state of their cellular connectivity.  The maps show the likelihood of people in a region breaking social distancing rules. The social media giant said it applies privacy-preserving measures to all the data it aggregates and that its movement maps and network coverage maps do not show activities of individuals, nor will it be used to shame people who aren't staying home. 

Facebook thumbs up.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

"A critical part of the Data for Good program is we've developed partnerships with academic researchers that enable us to produce these aggregate reports while protecting everyone's privacy and individual data. As governments seek to use data in new ways to get ahead of this outbreak, it is important that we maintain our privacy principles and have clear policies for these kinds of use," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post.  

In addition to pinpointing areas where people may be ignoring social distancing rules, Facebook launched an opt-in survey that asks users if they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19. Given that symptoms are often a precursor to visiting a hospital if the disease worsens, Zuckerberg said the surveys, if successful, could produce a weekly map to forecast more accurately how many cases hospitals in a specific region may experience in the coming days. 

"Researchers and health officials think the data from these surveys can help determine where to allocate health resources like ventilators, where to tighten lockdown orders, and eventually which counties can safely start opening back up again," Zuckerberg said. Facebook is first rolling it out in the U.S., but if the results are promising it could quickly expand it globally. 


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