Right now almost every state and business in America has told civilians to stay home due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the lack of information about the virus. Social distancing has been implemented and only “necessary” businesses are open but with extreme capacity restrictions. The virus has caused a massive divide between data privacy and general health and welfare concerns, but if you have a smartphone your movements have been tracked and collected by a company called Unacast.
Unacast is a behind the scenes data collecting company that has created a scoreboard of every state’s social distancing “score”, or the tracking of whether people have been actually social distancing. The scoreboard actually even can show county by county in each state who and what specific areas are practicing social distancing and staying home and who are not. It takes your recent GPS locations and compares it to previous data collected to determine whether you have reduced your traveling or not. Places like New York and New Jersey have received A ratings, while places like Wyoming have been given an F. It is by no means a definitive guide or ruling on whether people have truly been social distancing, but it’s information that can be helpful or useful to the government and health care officials.
Your average consumer has never heard of Unacast because they work in the realm of data collection and location tracking. It is an interesting approach for them to advertise this social distancing scoreboard because the less people know of what they do, the better for their business. Their job is to reveal as much about a person through their smartphone as possible and then sell that data. Most of their data comes from smartphone games, shopping apps,and anything that asks to use the consumers location. Unacast then sells these specific data points to marketers, retailers, anybody interested really. The amount of Americans who have at least one of these types of apps downloaded on their phone gives Unacast a very large and expansive pool of data to work from.
The Washington Post revealed that the U.S. government is in discussions with Facebook, Google, and other tech firms about using anonymous location data to combat coronavirus. This location data would also include monitoring and tracking people’s safe distance from each other. The data would not be stored in a government database; for research purposes, it would be handled by industry and health officials.
When situations or epidemics like this COVID-19 happen, often peoples’ privacy is sacrificed in the name of welfare and safety, but how can we be sure that the information given to the health officials is secure? If you are concerned about if you and your data are being tracked, check the apps on your smartphone and see how many use and ask for your location services.