On Monday Facebook revealed multiple tools to help health care officials and researchers track the outbreak of COVID-19 that relies upon Facebook’s massive collection of users’ personal data. Not only have they introduced new tools to help track the spread of the virus, but on their mobile app users are hit with a pop up asking them to fill out a survey about COVID-19. In the past Facebook has helped healthcare providers through their “Data for Good” Initiative providing healthcare researchers with data and now they are taking that same platform to help battle against COVID-19.
The survey was created by Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi epidemiological research center and uses the data collected by the survey to map all areas showing COVID-19 symptoms and anticipate what areas will be hit next. Their initial problem like many experiments was attracting such a large group of participants to accurately gauge if the data collected is representative of the area as a whole. Thanks to the help of Facebook, Carnegie Mellon can reach a lot more people in America. Facebook refused to comment or provide information on how many people would see the COVID-19 alert, regardless even a subset of U.S. people above the age of 18 will be huge from a data gathering point of view. Depending on the effectiveness, Facebook may have the prompts launch all across Europe and other areas of the world.
The other new Facebook tools aim to use population patterns and communication data to help forecast the spread of the virus and provide insight into the efficacy of the quarantine and self-isolating steps. The tools mainly rely upon smartphone location metadata to track the trends of people’s normal movement versus their amount of travel during lockdown. One of the tools indicates the likelihood that people in one area may come into contact with people in another area, helping to predict where Covid-19 cases can occur next; another shows on a regional level whether people are staying close to home or still travelling a lot.
Facebook’s final new tool uses their algorithms to analyze social interactions by showing how likely it is that people across states and countries know each other, therefore they use these patterns to help researchers predict where the disease will spread, the general consensus being that people who know each other are more likely to infect one another. If you take all these tools together it can certainly help Carnegie Mellon accurately map and predict COVID-19 breakouts, but also all healthcare and researchers. All of these tools will be accessible worldwide, but the tools will only be available to academic researchers. To learn more about these new tools or the COVID-19 survey head to Facebook’s Data for Good Initiative.