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Technology giants find creative ways to use our data to fight the corona virus

An unexpected result of the current pandemic is that large technology companies that have been on the defensive about their data collection practices for the past three years are now promoting it. Over the past four days, Google and Facebook have launched new products designed to improve our understanding of the spread of the disease and to help public health organizations and nonprofits to organize response efforts. These products are only made possible by the data that we provide with our smartphones.

The result was a new kind of competition among technology giants: who can find the most effective use of data to support the crisis? [1

9659003] Google's push into public health occurred on Friday with the publication of its COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports. I wrote about her for The Verge :

The reports use data from people who chose to store their location history on Google to illustrate the extent to which people are following government instructions to protect the place and work from home where possible.

“As global communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, public health strategies, such as health care, have become increasingly important. B. Social distancing measures to slow down the transfer rate. ”Company said in a blog post. “In Google Maps, we use aggregated, anonymized data that shows how busy certain types of places are. This way you can determine when a local company is the busiest. We have heard from public health officials that this type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful when making critical decisions to combat COVID-19. “

Anyone can view the reports, which initially cover 131 countries. At many locations, users can search for more regional data and review reports for individual states, provinces, and counties. After the user has selected a geographical region, Google generates a PDF with the collected data. Google said it chose PDFs instead of web pages because they are easier to download and share with local employees.

Facebook already provided similar data through Data for Good, a program that started in 2017 to help benevolent, non-commercial use of its data hoarding. However, only recognized universities and non-profit organizations can access this data, and so far only about 150 institutions have been included in the program. On the other hand, Google's data can be searched by anyone – a move that protects the company from a setback in handing data directly to the government, although the government will be one of the greatest beneficiaries.

On Monday, Facebook went one step further than Google and announced a series of global disease prevention maps and a survey tool to identify coronavirus hotspots. I also wrote about it:

Facebook is expanding a program that gives researchers access to movement pattern data to improve our understanding of the spread of COVID-19, the company said today. Data for Good, which uses aggregated, anonymized data from Facebook's apps to inform academic research, will now provide access to three new maps to predict the spread of the disease and reveal whether residents of a particular region stay at home.

The company will also ask Facebook users to take part in a Carnegie Mellon University survey asking people to report symptoms of the disease themselves. The answers, which are anonymized, could help researchers understand new hotspots as they develop, or see where the disease has withdrawn. Carnegie Mellon will not return symptom information to Facebook, the company said. […]

Tools released on Monday include co-location maps that illustrate the extent to which people who live in different areas mix. Movement area trends that show to what extent people stay at home or go out; and an “Index to Social Connections”, which shows how likely two people are to become Facebook friends, a measure of the strength of social ties in a given place. Communities with stronger social ties can recover faster than others, said Laura McGorman, political director for Data for Good.

One question I had during all of this reporting is how effectively we can expect it to be. It is clear that the technology that we currently need most is the type found in ventilators and test kits. How helpful can a high-level heat map of human movements really be?

Andrew Schroeder, who runs analysis programs at the humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, told me that these types of cards already inform disaster relief. Before coronavirus researchers started examining Facebook data last month, it was unclear whether the government orders that people be told to stay at home worked at all. Thanks to heat maps, Schroeder said, it is clear that they work well in some places and less so in others.

With this information, public health organizations can consider strengthening or changing home messages, he said. In the meantime, researchers can incorporate social distance data into their models for the expected course of the disease, which will hopefully lead to better predictions.

None of this can compensate for the lack of a coordinated federal response to the outbreak. But academics and nonprofits seem to find everything useful, and I expect tech companies will continue to launch new products in this direction as the crisis progresses.

Last summer, the number of state and federal investigations was examined. As the data protection and competition practices of technology giants increased, I had a pretty clear idea of ​​how the backlash could end. Tech companies would agree to new restrictions on their practices in collecting and using their customers' data. Perhaps they would be forced to outsource one or two subsidiaries to restrict the consolidation of so much data into the hands of fewer companies. Or maybe a new national data protection law would introduce new safeguards that calm public opinion.

But who says now that they will pay a price at all? Every week, technology companies find new ways to demonstrate the benefits of their global size. The game is at least in the break. And the search for new and creative ways to use our collective data is only accelerating.

The Ratio

Today in news that could affect public perception of major tech platforms.

⬆️ Upward trend : Amazon is currently distributing masks to the entire company network to ensure that all workers have a minimum level of protection. Over time.

⬆️ Upward Trend : Google funds fact-checkers and nonprofits that fight misinformation around the world with $ 6.5 million. The focus is on people who fight misinformation about the novel corona virus.

⬇️ Downtrend: Thousands of personal Zoom videos were viewed on the open web. The news highlights privacy risks for millions of Americans as they shift many of their personal interactions to video calls in times of social distance.

⬇️ Downward trend: Facebook's automated content The moderation system threatened to ban people who organize donation campaigns for hand-sewn masks. The company apologized for the mistake.


Amazon increased wages and added quarantine leave for warehouse workers. However, some say they are still concerned about their safety and do not believe the company is doing enough to help. Karen Weise and Kate Conger spoke to The New York Times with more than 30 Amazon warehouse workers and current and former corporate employees:

By mid-March, the number of visitors to Amazon warehouses had fallen by up to 30 percent the response of the company's employees involved. Small groups of workers protested this week against working conditions in Michigan and Staten Island. New York and New York City officials also said they were investigating whether Amazon had wrongfully retaliated against a worker he had fired who had been involved in the protest. […]

In some cases, employees continued to work after they showed symptoms, but before their tests were positive – if they were entitled to paid vacation. A person in New York developed symptoms on March 18, but did not stop working until March 25 when they went into quarantine, the documents show.

Amazon Delivery workers in India were beaten by the police for violating their stay – house orders, although they are said to be exempt. The company was forced to close its warehouses and interrupt deliveries for a few days to protect its employees. (Priya Anand / The Information )

Chris Smalls, the Amazon warehouse worker who organized the exit to Staton Island and was subsequently released, wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos and asked him to protect workers. (Chris Smalls / The Guardian )

Gig workers on the Target delivery platform Shipt (19459026) are organizing a strike on Tuesday to protest the lack of security precautions Coronavirus pandemic. It is the first worker-organized protest against the company. (Lauren Kaori Gurley / Vice )

Nationwide online grocery orders increased between March 12th and 15th by 150 percent compared to the same period last year. Customers now find it almost impossible to plan their grocery deliveries. I'm sure! (Serena Dai and Erika Adams / Eater )

Zoom Meetings are encrypted using an algorithm with serious, known vulnerabilities and sometimes with keys issued by servers in China, even when participants are are all in North America. The message comes from researchers at the University of Toronto. (Micah Lee / The Intercept )

For security reasons, some school districts across the country have begun to prohibit the use of Zoom . Others are considering using the video conferencing platform for distance learning. (Valerie Strauss / The Washington Post )

Zoom enabled passwords and waiting rooms for meetings by default to prevent zoom bombing. The new default settings create real friction when joining a meeting. (Jay Peters / The Verge )

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan says he is trying to restore the company's reputation in the face of increasing privacy concerns and acid use. The company is working on a number of fixes, such as true end-to-end encryption, to address these concerns. (Aaron Tilley and Robert McMillan / The Wall Street Journal )

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann launched a self-reporting COVID-19 tracking app with a team of scientists. (Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch )

Facebook installs thousands of portals in nursing homes in the UK. The aim is to avoid loneliness as the visits have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Never waste a crisis. (Gian Volpicelli / Wired )

YouTube said it will reduce the number of conspiracy-related videos that combine 5G technology and the corona virus that it recommends to users. The news comes after four attacks by British on telephone poles that believe that cellular networks generate viruses have been recorded within 24 hours. (Alex Hern / The Guardian )

Snap Lab, the hardware team behind Snap Spectacles, has at least temporarily turned to make medical face shields during the coronavirus crisis. The equipment will be donated to intensive care unit staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. (Annlee Ellingson / Los Angeles Business Journal )

In this way, coronavirus misinformation spreads and eludes content moderators. The ecosystem of misinformation providers is so rich and mutating so quickly that moderators struggle to keep up. (Robert Evans / Bellingcat )

The corona virus originated in the middle of a golden age of media manipulation. And in a fast-moving pandemic, the outcome could be fatal if what appears to be true today is wrong tomorrow. (Charlie Warzel / The New York Times )

Governments around the world are calling on the technology industry to help solve some of the major problems related to the coronavirus pandemic. Startups develop apps that track coronavirus symptoms and chatbots that answer frequently asked questions. (Daphne Leprince-Ringuet / ZDNet )

Dr. Fauci stans created Facebook fan clubs and TikTok videos to celebrate the scientist who leads the Trump administration's novel coronavirus response. (Makena Kelly / The Verge )

Religious leaders in the United States have turned to virtual tools to stream services and offer personalized advice. This distant worship has allowed the clergy to maintain an appearance of community in a desperate and isolated time. (Joseph Bernstein / BuzzFeed )

Virus Tracker

Total number of cases in the United States: At least 357,036

Total number of deaths in the United States: At least 10,000 [19659049] Reported Cases in California: 15,221

Reported Cases in New York: 131,239

Reported Cases in New Jersey: 41,090

Reported Cases in Michigan: 15,718 [19659053] Data from The New York Times .


The next phase of the EU anti-trust investigation in Facebook will investigate whether the social media giant is distorting the classified ad business by promoting its free marketplace among its two billion users. (Javier Espinoza / Financial Times )


TikTok Stars do not go to Hollywood for film and television careers. But they're still signed on by top Hollywood agents. (Taylor Lorenz / The New York Times )

Jane Fonda joined TikTok and used it to revitalize her famous 80s home trainings, jerseys and everything. Great news! (Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz / The Cut )

Will Smith started a Snapchat series . The series will feature an actor hanging around in his garage during the novel coronavirus pandemic and speaking to various guests, including his family and Tyra Banks. (Natalie Jarvey / The Hollywood Reporter )

Jaboukie Young-White, the comedian and Daily Show correspondent who is famous for changing his name, and Twitter Avatar in To pretend to be a human being, it doesn't matter to be suspended by Twitter. What happens … not infrequently. (Hunter Harris / Geier )

The CBS series All Rise will produce a “virtual” episode on the COVID-19 pandemic. The cast uses VFX footage in their homes to create backgrounds, and is said to include both Zoom and FaceTime. (Kim Lyons / The Verge )

Phone tracking just has a moment but the gay dating app Scruff doesn't want any part of it. The CEO brags not to sell user data. But could it be helpful for academics and nonprofits? (Charles Levinson / Minutes )


Things you can do online during quarantine.

Check out Quibi, the well-funded new streaming service from Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It's free for 90 days. (Also see this profile of Meg Whitman by Elizabeth Lopatto from The Verge .)

Check this leaderboard for each episode of the best YouTube show: Bon Appétit: Gourmet Makes . Then watch all the episodes.

Look at the original cast of Hamilton to perform for a 9-year-old girl on zoom who had tickets to see the show before being canceled due to the virus.

Watch a curiously soothing, twitching stream of a bicycle messenger navigating the almost empty streets of Manhattan.

Treat yourself to a haircut under the supervision of a virtual hairdresser. A great way for stylists to make money during this time. I will also have to do that and it will be terrible!

These good tweets

Talk to us

Send us tips, questions, comments and creative applications For our location data: casey@theverge.com and zoe@theverge.com.

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