Coronavirus: Apple Begins Publishing Mobility Data

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Not as detailed as Google’s Covid-19 Community Mobility reports, but Apple has released a tool that shows changes in people’s travel or mobility patterns

Apple has released a tool that allows for the downloading of aggregated navigation data from Apple Maps.

The idea of the tool is to provide insight into mobility (i.e travel) trends for both cities, regions and indeed countries.

The tool’s release comes after Google on 2 April began offering data for 131 countries that shows whether people are obeying self-isolating and quarantine rules during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Apple iOS Maps Dublin Airport

Mobility data

On the surface the Google data seems more in-depth, as it measures visits to shops, grocery stores, parks, offices and other locations.

Google gathers this data from every Android user who has agreed to turn on location tracking, as well as iPhones that have Google Maps installed.

Apple’s data on the other hand covers just three categories of activity – walking, driving and transit.

And there are a couple of caveats. Not many people will typically use Apple Maps when they are out walking for example. Also, the usage of Apple Maps is likely to be substantially less than usage of the more popular Google Maps.

However, Google publishes the snapshot of its data once a week, whereas Apple allows the user to export the raw data and rather than just providing a snapshot.

Apple has also provided daily readings from early January right up to Sunday 12 April.

The tool is available here.

“Apple today released a mobility data trends tool from Apple Maps to support the impactful work happening around the globe to mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” blogged the iPad maker.

“This mobility data may provide helpful insights to local governments and health authorities and may also be used as a foundation for new public policies by showing the change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit in their communities,” it said.

Privacy focus

And Apple was keen to stress that it is respecting people’s privacy.

“Maps does not associate mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, and Apple does not keep a history of where a user has been,” it said. “Using aggregated data collected from Apple Maps, the new website indicates mobility trends for major cities and 63 countries or regions.”

It seems that the data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions. The data sets are then compared to reflect a change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit around the world.

“Apple has built privacy into the core of Maps from the beginning,” wrote Apple. “Data collected by Maps, like search terms, navigation routing, and traffic information, is associated with random, rotating identifiers that continually reset, so Apple doesn’t have a profile of your movements and searches. This enables Maps to provide a great experience, while protecting user privacy.”

Other work

Apple also said that it has sourced and donated well over 20 million face masks for medical professionals on the front lines around the world.

It said that it is shipping 1 million face masks per week to the areas that need them most.

And Apple and Google are currently undertaking a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus.

Over the Easter weekend Health Secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed British plans for Covid-19 tracking app.

The contact tracking app will apparently warn people if they have recently been in close proximity to someone suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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