Goal is to get location data in up to 500 U.S. cities to help plan response; privacy concerns call for ‘strong legal safeguards,’ activist says
By Byron Tau | 28 March 2020
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL — Government officials across the U.S. are using location data from millions of cellphones in a bid to better understand the movements of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic and how they may be affecting the spread of the disease.
The federal government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments have started to receive analyses about the presence and movement of people in certain areas of geographic interest drawn from cellphone data, people familiar with the matter said. The data comes from the mobile advertising industry rather than cellphone carriers. …
Researchers and governments around the world have used a patchwork of authorities and tactics to collect mobile phone data — sometimes looking for voluntary compliance from either companies or individuals, and in other cases using laws meant for terrorism or other emergencies to collect vast amounts of data on citizens to combat the coronavirus threat.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have launched a project to track volunteer Covid-19 patients through a mobile phone app. Telecom carriers in Germany, Austria, Spain, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries have given data over to authorities to help combat the pandemic. Israel’s intelligence agencies were tapped to use antiterrorism phone-tracking technology to map infections.
In the U.S., so far, the data being used has largely been drawn from the advertising industry. The mobile marketing industry has billions of geographic data points on hundreds of millions of U.S. cell mobile devices — mostly drawn from applications that users have installed on their phones and allowed to track their location. Huge troves of this advertising data are available for sale. […]