Apple releases mobility data trends tool to mitigate the spread of COVID-19
Amer Owaida, Security Writer at ESET discusses the release a new tool from Apple, which looks at how people’s traveling behavior has changed since the start of the pandemic
Apple has released a tool that shows how movement patterns around the world were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic since January 13th.
Called Mobility Trends Reports, the tool is similar to Google’s own dataset, dubbed Community Mobility Reports and launched earlier in April. Both tech giants have also joined forces to launch a decentralized joint COVID-19 contact tracing tool for their respective mobile operating systems.
Apple’s reports leverage Apple Maps’ tools to measure how people use different means of transport that the maps track, such as driving, walking, and public transit. In order to ease possible privacy concerns, the data is anonymized and aggregated.
Apple detailed as much in a statement posted on its official website:
“Maps does not associate mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, and Apple does not keep a history of where a user has been. Using aggregated data collected from Apple Maps, the new website indicates mobility trends for major cities and 63 countries or regions.”
The company went on to elaborate that the data is generated by counting the number of requests made to the Apple Maps application when users are looking for directions. These data sets are compared to reflect the change in the volume of users driving, walking or taking public transport.
You can check the changes yourself by visiting the dedicated website. Reports are published daily and registered on the graph, including in comparison to the January 13th baseline.
The tool was released in an effort to help governments and health authorities better understand how people have adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn could help them in shaping public policies. Of course, Apple was quick to reiterate multiple times that user privacy is central to its efforts, and that it does not keep a profile of the movements or searches of its individual users.
As exceptional circumstances call for exceptional actions, some countries have decided to heed that advice by using technology to track and monitor the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Israel approved new measures to track its citizens’ mobile phones while Singapore made the personal information of victims of the disease publicly available. Other countries opted for sharing aggregated anonymized location data with health authorities.