Mobility data can be potent tool in fighting COVID-19

Location and mobility data collected through apps and smartphones can play an important role in measuring the impact of social distancing efforts and refining interventions to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a March 23, 2020 letter in Science signed by a dozen experts from academia, medicine, government, and nonprofits.

“The estimates of aggregate flows of people are incredibly valuable,” the authors wrote. “A map that examines the impact of social distancing messaging or policies on population mobility patterns, for example, will help county officials understand what kinds of messaging or policies are most effective.” Such estimates are needed, the authors wrote, “not only now but also when we need to resume life again without risking a major resurgence.”

The letter emphasized that appropriate legal, organizational, and computational safeguards must be followed to ensure that data privacy standards are met, and it noted that “protection of personal privacy must be paramount.” Moreover, the letter said that researchers are not advocating the use of individual data, but rather aggregated location data from multiple devices that reflects population-level movements.

First author of the letter was Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Other Harvard Chan School authors included Satchit Balsari, Francesca Dominici, Marc Lipsitch, and Yonatan Grad.

Read the Science article: Aggregated mobility data could help fight COVID-19