Facebook to produce ‘heat maps’ of COVID-19 infections

Facebook will ask users whether they have been infected with the coronavirus as part of a project to generate “heat maps” of the outbreak.

Initially focused on the social media giant’s users in the US, the survey is part of a coronavirus research project from Carnegie Mellon University to analyse the spread of COVID-19.

A link to the survey will be displayed at the top of users’ news feeds, and the results should allow them to predict where medical resources are needed.

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Facebook said if the project is successful then it could introduce the surveys in other countries too.

It said that it wouldn’t share identifying information about its users with the university, and that the researchers wouldn’t share individual survey responses with the company.

Facebook added that it would begin making new categories of data available to scientists who specialise in studying epidemics through a new programme called Disease Prevention Maps, which is sharing aggregated location data with partners in 40 countries.

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Other technology companies are also vying to produce heat maps for governments showing the spread of the virus.

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The British government has asked mobile phone network O2 to share anonymous smartphone location data so it can generate heat maps to see whether people are following its social distancing guidelines, as Sky News revealed.

Sky News also revealed that the controversial spyware company NSO Group is pitching software to Western governments which would allow them to use location data to trace whom infected persons may have been in contact with.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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