As reported by Wall Street Journal, cell phone location data sourced from the mobile ad industry and not data carriers will be used to track movements of Americans during the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, the state, local government, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now have cell phone data of individuals in areas of “geographic interest.”
More on the strategy to track compliance with stay-at-home orders
With this data, the objective is to build a government portal by using geolocation information obtained from around 500 cities spread across the US to help establish a control and keep a check on people’s compliance toward the stay-at-home orders.
Here is an example of how the anonymized data was used: Researches working on this data observed that there were a large number of people gathering at the NYC Park, this was further notified to local authorities for further action.
The security angle
Although data that does not have identifying particulars is used for this activity, it still raises countless privacy concerns; however privacy advocates urge to put limits on the pattern of using this data to avoid its use from anything other than keeping a track of the COVID-19 spread.
According to the New York Times, several other countries hit by the deadly pandemic have also used this type of data to track citizen movements and get the situation under control. Mobile carriers in the European Union (EU) also shared related data with the health authorities in countries like Austria and Germany, although specific patients’ details were not made available in these reports.
Israel also gave a green signal to use cell phone location data with an aim to track the virus, with instructions to use the data in a “focused, time-limited and limited activity pattern.”
China’s strategy on using cell phone data
China has sensibly used the tracking system to send information to law enforcement officials. Simultaneously Taiwan’s “electronic fence” gives a heads-up to authorities when quarantined people move too far away from their homes.
What did South Korea do with cell phone data?
South Korea made use of cell phone data to design and engineer a public map of coronavirus patients, to be able to track places where people must have been exposed.
Cell phone companies in the US stated to the Wall Street Journal that the government has not yet asked them to provide location data.
But as per a Washington post published on March 17, 2020, the federal government was in active talks with tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and other tech enterprises to figure out the best use of location data to serve the purpose.