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Facebook tool will help to track the effectiveness of social distancing

The Disease Prevention Maps will use anonymized location data to track the movement of people

Facebook website on a computer screen

Facebook is working on a new tool that will show whether people are listening to self-isolation advice and orders designed to diminish the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

The company announced on Monday that the service will use anonymized location data to track the movement of people around regions, helping public health officials determine potential COVID-19 outbreak areas.

On his personal Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Disease Prevention Maps will be launched “in the US this week”.

“If the results are promising then we will quickly expand this globally in the days ahead,” he said.

According to Facebook, the maps will include movement range trends, a social connectedness index that shows the areas where people might need more support, and information on the probability that people in one area will come into contact with each other.

The collection of location data is anonymised and opt-in, meaning that Facebook users will have to first agree to share their data.

Zuckerberg also expressed his hopes for providing healthcare workers with sufficient information in order to plan ahead. 

“If this works, it can produce a weekly map that may help more accurately forecast how many cases hospitals will see in the days ahead, as well as an early indicator of where the outbreak is growing and where the curve is being successfully flattened,” he wrote.

Facebook's announcement is an example of the latest efforts of tech giants to contribute to fighting the pandemic.

Last week, Google published reports showing whether visits to public spaces and workplaces had dropped over the last month, as governments around the world advised citizens to stay at home and self-isolate in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The tech giant analysed location data from billions of users’ phones over 131 countries, making it the largest public dataset currently available. The report is designed to help health authorities evaluate whether citizens are complying with issued across the world. 

The report revealed that in the UK there has been an 85% decrease in mobility trends for retail and recreational places, including restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, museums, libraries and cinemas. Public transport hubs had the second-largest decrease of 75%, while workplaces experienced a 55% fall in attendance.

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