- Google has released aggregated location data from 131 countries that shows how people are moving around during the coronavirus pandemic.
- The data compares footfall from up to a few days ago to a baseline taken from the beginning of this year.
- In many Western countries, visits to recreational and retail locations, grocery shops, transit stations, and workplaces have plummeted.
- In some East Asian countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan, visits to grocery shops and parks have actually increased.
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Location data released by Google paints a fascinating picture of how the world moves around during a pandemic.
Google on Thursday released aggregated location data from 131 countries showing how people are moving around amid widespread, restrictive lockdowns.
Google’s data notes changes in attendance to retail and recreation locations (e.g. cinemas, restaurants, museums); groceries and pharmacies; parks; transit stations; workplaces; and residential areas.
As its “baseline” average, Google used location data from the beginning of the year (January 3 to February 6), and compared that to data up until just a few days ago.
China, which was at the epicenter of the outbreak, was not included in the data.
In the US, where lockdown measures vary from state to state, the data broke down like this:
- 47% decrease in retail and recreation.
- 22% decrease in grocery and pharmacy visits.
- 19% decrease in visits to parks.
- 51% decrease in footfall to transit stations.
- 38% decrease in going to workplaces.
- 12% increase to residential locations.
These seem like big drops, but other Western countries experienced even bigger drops, suggesting the US isn’t yet enforcing lockdowns as strictly as Europe.
In Italy, the first European country to encounter the outbreak, visits to retail and recreation plummeted by 94%, 85% for groceries and pharmacies, and 90% for parks.
Spain, which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus, also experienced a drop of 94% to retail and recreation, along with 76% for groceries and 89% for parks.
In the UK retail and recreation footfall fell by 85%, while grocery and pharmacy shopping dropped by 46% and visits to parks by 52%.
India has also seen a big drop of 77% to retail and recreation sites, along with 65% to grocery shops and 57% to parks.
Asia is actually recording an increase in shopping and park visits and
In some Asian countries, the effects of the virus on people’s movements in recent days appear to have been less pronounced.
In Taiwan, which has used location data to keep quarantined citizens in “electronic fences” which alert the police if they leave their house, visits to retail and recreation sites only fell 9%, while visits to groceries and parks went up by 3% and 17% respectively.
South Korea has seen a 51% increase in visits to parks and an 11% increase for groceries. South Korea experienced its peak in coronavirus cases on February 29, and has steadily been flattening the curve since then without imposing a total lockdown. It also had dips of up to 40% attendance to parks up until early March, per Google’s report.
Google says that the location data is anonymized and that it uses the same kind of data to show people on Google Maps when they’re likely to run into traffic.
But Professor Mark Skilton, a digital communications expert from Warwick Business School, said the use of such data poses some difficult problems around the issue of consent.
“Anonymous data is commonly used in medical trials to test new and existing drugs, but that is consensual because participants are asked at the outset for permission to use their medical data. Using data from Google is an altogether more complex issue. While we do have legal precedent for law enforcement accessing mobile phones and private data in the case of terrorism and cybersecurity breaches, this use of large-scale data is ethically more difficult,” said Skilton.
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