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U.S. government and big tech want to use location data to fight coronavirus

The U.S. government is reportedly working with big tech to come up with ways that people’s cell phone data location can be used to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. 

Facebook, Google, and other major tech companies are in talks with the government to examine compiling location data that would help follow the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., The Washington Post reports. Public health officials would track this type of data to improve their understanding of how the coronavirus spreads. 

The Post reports that if the data were collected, it would be anonyzed and would be presented as an aggregated dataset where researchers could analyze location trends. Officials said that the data would not be built as a government database. 

Last week, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter attended a meeting with U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios to address ways the federal government can work with the tech industry to respond properly to the coronavirus outbreak. That meeting could have resulted in the idea of using location data as a way to curb the spread of the virus. 

Digital Trends reached out to Facebook and Google to comment on the reports of helping with location data. We will update this story when we hear back. 

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On Monday, it was reported that Israel was advocating to do the same thing for its citizens by using a secret trove of cell phone location data. The data would be used to decide who to put in quarantine based on whether they crossed paths with someone who was diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

While learning more about how the coronavirus spreads through location data could potentially end up in lower case numbers for countries, it raises privacy concerns.

Government use of people’s cell phone location data is unfortunately nothing new, and even here in the U.S., federal agencies use location data for immigration enforcement, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

However, desperate times could call for desperate measures, as confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. are increasing every day. 

In total, there have been more than 194,870 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and 7,865 confirmed deaths, according to an online dashboard that tracks cases. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, but there have been confirmed cases in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and dozens of other countries around the globe.

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