Google publishes UK movement data to help understand impact of social distancing

Google has begun sharing location data linked to people’s movements to show how the public is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The technology firm said it was using aggregated, anonymised data from products such as Google Maps for the process.

The scheme would protect people’s privacy and would not include any personally identifiable information at any point, Google said.

The first report for the UK, for the period between February 16 and March 29 showed that visits to retail and recreation locations such as restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and museums dropped by 85%.

Visits to parks and public beaches also fell 52%, and trips to transit stations fell 75%.

Visits to workplaces also dropped 55%, the figures showed.

The data is traditionally used by Google for apps such as Maps to reveal when specific places of interest are busiest, as well as to revise driving routes when being used for navigation.

The Government has voiced its support for the scheme, saying it would help assess the impact of social distancing measures put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We’re working closely with tech companies to find innovative ways to stop the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives.”Google’s publication of Covid-19 mobility reports will help improve our understanding of the impact of the social distancing measures.

“Using anonymous data in this way is a great example of how we can do that, while continuing to protect people’s personal data.”

The UK report also features a county-by-county breakdown of movement habits, and Google says it plans to update them “regularly”.

The data comes from Google users who have Location History turned on in their Google account settings – this setting is off by default.

However, it can also be turned off at any time from within Location History setting, and data can also be directly deleted from a user’s Google Maps timeline.

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