According to a story by the Washington Post, the U.S. Government is in communication with health experts and Facebook and Google, among other tech companies, in an effort to determine how phone location data could be used in the fight against COVID-19. The Washington Post talked with three people involved in this project who asked to remain anonymous. The three individuals claim the following:
Public-health experts are interested in the possibility that private-sector companies could compile the data in anonymous, aggregated form, which they could then use to map the spread of the infection.
Washington Post reporters talked with representatives of both Facebook and Google who confirmed that they have been in conversation with health experts and the U.S. government on the topic of location data usage. However, multiple government officials and company representatives stressed that this project in its early stages, with Google even saying that it has not yet decided whether to participate. That said, Facebook is reportedly already helping health researchers and nonprofits in multiple countries to create disease-prevention maps using anonymized and aggregated location data. This data is collected as the Facebook app runs in the background and purportedly with the permission of users.
The most granular data Facebook provides to outsiders can locate a person to within about a third of a mile, Facebook officials say. The tech giant does not provide any data about individuals’ movement, aggregated or otherwise, to governments for disease tracking, the company says.
Johnny Luu, a Google representative, made a similar statement regarding the details of the location data and user privacy. Multiple sources also emphasized that, if the project goes ahead, no government database will be built.