U.S. government tracks phone location data to monitor spread of COVID-19

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Other governments around the world are using similar approaches.
Photo: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. government officials are using location data from millions of cellphone users around the country to track movement during the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The weekend report says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local governments, have begun receiving reports concerning areas of “geographic interest” in the country. This could cover as many as 500 cities around the United States.

This data, which is stripped of identifying information, can be used in multiple ways. It shows where large groups of people are gathering. It can also help reveal compliance with stay-at-home orders.

Unsurprisingly, privacy advocates are concerned about the tracking measures. Wolfie Christl, a privacy activist and researcher, told the newspaper that the location data industry is “covidwashing” the use of “privacy-invading” products.

U.S. is not the only country to track user movement during COVID-19

The U.S. is just the latest part of the world to track the location of users during the coronavirus pandemic. Other countries to investigate similar technologies include the likes of Singapore, Taiwan, and Israel. Last week, eight major telecoms providers in Europe reportedly agreed to share mobile phone location data with officials to track the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, U.K. health researchers recently launched a COVID-19 symptom-tracking app to help monitor the spread of the coronavirus. Having already rocked to the top of the App Store charts, it will soon make its way to the U.S.

Different countries are using different approaches to carry out location tracking of users. In Europe, for instance, it seems that network carriers are providing the user data. In the U.S., the mobile advertising industry provides the data, the WSJ claims.

How do you feel about user tracking for public health reasons right now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Wall Street Journal