Google releases location data to show how countries are obeying lockdowns

On Thursday, search giant Google released location information it had collected from 131 countries to show the level of obedience to ordered or recommended lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus infections. 

The data did not include any identifying information, Reuters said, but was meant to show a general trend in behavior during the lockdown period so far. Billions of users’ data from mobile phone use was included in the reports.

Google said it published the reports so that the public would know what data it was giving to authorities. There has been a debate in recent days about whether furnishing the data was an invasion of users’ privacy.

The tech giant also explained how users could opt out of having their data used by disabling the location function in Google apps, Reuters reported.

Lockdowns having effect on movement

The data included charts showing traffic to retail and recreation venues, grocery stores and workplaces, as well as use of public transportation between February 16 and March 29.

Countries reporting high numbers of coronavirus cases did show evidence that lockdowns were being obeyed. In Italy and Spain, visits to retail and recreation locations dropped 94%. The UK had an 80% drop, while India’s was 77%, according to Reuters.

The U.S. and Australia had drops of less than 50% overall, but varied according to location. Not all U.S. states are on lockdown, and numbers of cases have been very low in some areas while much higher in a few others, like New York and New Jersey.

In South Korea, which isolated the elderly and chronically ill but did not do an overall lockdown, the decline was only 19%.

Traffic surges to grocery stores

The data showed huge spikes in traffic to grocery stores as lockdowns went into effect in the UK, Singapore, and elsewhere. Grocery shelves were initially emptied in many locations as people were advised to have two weeks of food and supplies on hand in case they were quarantined.

Some of the increased traffic to grocery stores could also be due to other locations being restricted. For some, a trip to the grocery store has become an excuse to get out of the house.

Other surges noted in the data included New Orleans during Mardi Gras and parks in some areas of California, which may have been responsible for spreading the virus in those areas.

By St. Patricks’ Day a month later, though, Dublin was showing much more depressed activity compared to the normal crowds there.

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