Facebook will share more data with researchers to track the spread of COVID-19

Facebook's Data for Good program is the social network's way to use the data it collects from its users in order to help officials and certain organizations, especially during crises and other tragic events. Naturally, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, tools like maps are already being used to help researchers understand the current situation.

Today, Facebook has announced three new kinds of maps that aim to help researchers understand the potential for the spread of COVID-19 cases. First is the co-location maps, which keeps track of the probability that a person from one area will come into contact with a person from somewhere else, thus creating the potential for the virus to spread. This can help predict where cases will appear next.

Co-location map for Italy

Then there's movement range trends, which analyze how much the population of a certain area is traveling, to assess where social distancing and self-isolation measures are being more or less effective.

Finally, there's the "social connectedness index", which analyzes how people from one area connect with people from other areas of the world, identifying the potential for spreading the disease or where people might seek help during this time.

As usual, Facebook says that it's protecting user privacy even during this time. The data for the maps above is anonymized and aggregated, indicating general trends in a certain area, rather than identifying each user.

In addition to the new data maps for researchers, users in the United States will now also be prompted to take a survey being run by the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center. The data collected from this survey will help researchers gain insight into where people are experiencing symptoms and might be infected. The research is conducted off of Facebook's website and it's optional. It will show up at the top of the news.

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