Google has decided to make part of the geolocation data available to it public. The reports published by the group make it possible to assess changes in travel habits, by country or by region. This information, available since 8 am this Friday morning, should provide invaluable information on the movements of the populations, and especially, on the frequentation of various categories of place. These reports will be published in 131 countries, to start with.
The granularity of the information collected by Google is sufficiently fine to enable it to determine whether the frequentation of parks and gardens has decreased, or whether that of pharmacy and food stores has increased, during a given period. In a blog note, the group says it will post “trends over several weeks, with the most recent information 48 to 72 hours old.” This data will be provided as a percentage, but the group will not communicate on absolute values. For example, it will be possible to determine that station traffic in a given region has dropped by 70%, but without knowing how many travelers are affected.
“To protect people’s privacy, no personally identifiable information, such as a person’s location, contacts or movements, is made available at any time,” said the blog post. The group has implemented several measures to protect the private data of its users.
Smartphone users must have enabled the location setting for their geolocation data to be collectable and collected. The temptation to activate this option is great, since Google highlights the fact that it allows access to a higher level of services, with more suitable recommendations for example.
Google already collects and uses this type of data for its own services, starting with recommending routes when traffic jams are detected. To determine the traffic density, Google literally counts the smartphones present at a given time and place.
If the intention of Google is laudable, since it is to help the public authorities to assess the impact of a containment policy, to anticipate needs according to the evolution of population movements, it raises some questions. It is also a way of realizing the importance of the data collected by these groups, which now have a level of information on the population that is sometimes higher than that of a state. It is also an opportunity for everyone to question the nature of the information they agree to share in order to benefit from this or that service.
Tracing data, monitoring populations is one of the mechanisms for monitoring the evolution of an epidemic. Orange has set up a collaboration with Inserm. Europe seeks to extend studies of population mobility. With the dissemination of this information, Google brings valuable information to the scientific community. But by acting voluntarily, the group also cuts the grass under the feet of those who would force it to communicate its information. It also allows him to keep control of the data he agrees to share and the methodology applied.