Google Reveals Travel Habits During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The reports track the places where people are going, across categories like residential, retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, and workplaces.

An empty street.

What have you been up to during the coronavirus pandemic? Some of us have the luxury of working from home, whereas others must still commute to their workplace on a daily basis. Meanwhile, others are making the occasional trip to stock up at the grocers. Either way, Google knows.

The tech firm, best known for its internet search engine, has published reports showing people’s movements over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak. Titled “Community Mobility Reports,” these readings collect data from billions of Google users’ phones and track the places where people are going, across categories like residential, retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, and workplaces.

Photo: Google

According to Google, these insights will be available for a limited time “so long as public health officials find them useful in their work to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Spanning 131 countries and territories, including Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and the United Kingdom, the reports utilized “aggregated and anonymized data” gathered through Google Maps to show how busy certain types of places are in order to help identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. This is so that people can avoid crowded places in order to maintain social distancing and help flatten the pandemic curve.

Regarding the privacy of extracted data, Google said that no personally identifiable information, like someone’s location, contacts or movement, is made available “at any point.” These insights are created from users who have turned on the “Location History” setting on their smart devices.

In addition, these reports also show how busy certain places are compared to a period earlier in the year before the introduction of social distancing measures.

For example, a report on Singapore shows that mobility trends at transit stations (public transport) have fallen by 40 percent compared to baseline, while movement at residential spots (homes) have risen by 15 percent compared to baseline—showing the results of the country’s COVID-19 measures.

See the reports here.

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