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Facebook shares location data with coronavirus researchers

Facebook has released new tools to provide location data to researchers working who are to understand and overcome the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Facebook’s maps on population movements are already in use by researchers and nonprofit organizations responding to the outbreak. To further support their efforts, the social media company is releasing three new tools, collectively named Disease Prevention Maps.

The Disease Prevention Maps use users’ location data to show how population dynamics influence the spread of the coronavirus. They come in the form of co-location maps, movement range trends, and a “social connectedness” index.

Facebook said the tools use aggregate data to protect people’s privacy.

The co-location maps show the probability of people from different areas coming in contact with each other. The data could be used by researchers to predict where the next coronavirus cases may appear.

Facebook Co-Location Map

Movement range trends show, at a regional level, whether people are staying at home or moving around, to gauge the effectiveness of preventive measures like sheltering in place. Finally, the social connectedness index tracks friendships across states and countries, to forecast the chances of coronavirus spreading and to reveal which hard-hit areas may seek support.

Facebook Social Connectedness Index

The Disease Prevention Maps, according to Facebook, are part of the social media company’s Data for Good program, which shares data to nonprofit organizations, researchers, and communities to help address issues and create solutions.

Facebook has also launched a survey in the U.S. that will appear at the top of the News Feed.

The poll, run by Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Research Group, will ask users to self-report what possible coronavirus symptoms they’re suffering. The data from this survey will generate new insights into the health crisis, including heat maps of respondents’ symptoms, Facebook said. If the survey results prove to be helpful in managing resources and determining parts of society that may be reopened, it may be expanded to other parts of the world.

The launch of the three new location data tools follow Facebook’s efforts in stopping the spread of misinformation about COVID-19. The company launched the Coronavirus Information Center, which sources updates from the World Health Organization and other health authorities, on the main Facebook app. Messenger, meanwhile, rolled out the Coronavirus Community Hub, which provides people with tips and resources.

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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