By Allen Payton
Google released a treasure trove of information, Friday labeled Mobility Reports, based on cell phone users’ movements, during the coronavirus pandemic, that includes statistics showing activities such as shopping, use of parks, and going to work.
“Each Community Mobility Report is broken down by location and displays the change in visits to places like grocery stores and parks. This is an early release and reports will be updated regularly”, Google shared on their website.
In California, from February 16 through March 29, the data show a 50% drop in retail and recreation, a 24% decrease in grocery shopping and pharmacy visits, a 38% drop in visits to parks, a 54% decrease in use of public transit, but only a 39% drop in going to work. An even more interesting statistic is the data show only a 15% increase in going to places of residence.
The stats for Contra Costa County were similar, with a 48% drop in retail and recreation, a 21% decrease in grocery shopping and pharmacy visits, a 49% drop in using public transit, a 41% decrease in going to work, as well as the same 15% increase in visits to home. But there was only a 15% decrease in visits to parks.
Under the title “Helping public health officials combat COVID-19”, Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP, Geo and Google Health’s Chief Health Officer, Karen DeSalvo, MD, M.P.H. issued the following statement, today, Friday, April 3:
“As global communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increasing emphasis on public health strategies, like social distancing measures, to slow the rate of transmission. In Google Maps, we use aggregated, anonymized data showing how busy certain types of places are—helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.
Starting today we’re publishing an early release of our COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to provide insights into what has changed in response to work from home, shelter in place, and other policies aimed at flattening the curve of this pandemic. These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies.
The reports use aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential. We’ll show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-to-72 hours prior. While we display a percentage point increase or decrease in visits, we do not share the absolute number of visits. To protect people’s privacy, no personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.
We will release these reports globally, initially covering 131 countries and regions. Given the urgent need for this information, where possible we will also provide insights at the regional level. In the coming weeks, we will work to add additional countries and regions to ensure these reports remain helpful to public health officials across the globe looking to protect people from the spread of COVID-19.”
Google also provided additional information about their reports, how they gathered the data and what they’re doing with it:
The Community Mobility Reports were developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and protecting people’s privacy. No personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, will be made available at any point.
Insights in these reports are created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the Location History setting, which is off by default. People who have Location History turned on can choose to turn it off at any time from their Google Account and can always delete Location History data directly from their Timeline.
We also use the same world-class anonymization technology used in our products every day to keep your activity data private and secure. This includes differential privacy, which adds artificial noise to our datasets, enabling us to generate insights while preventing the identification of any individual person.
How long will these reports be available?
These reports will be available for a limited time, so long as public health officials find them useful in their work to stop the spread of COVID-19.