US Officials Use Mobile Ad Location Data to Study How COVID-19 Spreads, not cellphone tower data

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 data comes from the mobile advertising industry rather than cellphone carriers. The aim is to create a portal for federal, state and local officials that contains geolocation data in what could be as many as 500 cities across the U.S., one of the people said, to help plan the epidemic response… It shows which retail establishments, parks and other public spaces are still drawing crowds that could risk accelerating the transmission of the virus, according to people familiar with the matter… The data can also reveal general levels of compliance with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, according to experts inside and outside government, and help measure the pandemic’s economic impact by revealing the drop-off in retail customers at stores, decreases in automobile miles driven and other economic metrics.

The CDC has started to get analyses based on location data through through an ad hoc coalition of tech companies and data providers — all working in conjunction with the White House and others in government, people said.

The CDC and the White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It’s the cellphone carriers turning over pandemic-fighting data in Germany, Austria, Spain, Belgium, the U.K., according to the article, while Israel mapped infections using its intelligence agencies’ antiterrorism phone-tracking. But so far in the U.S., “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…”

Source: US Officials Use Mobile Ad Location Data to Study How COVID-19 Spreads – Slashdot

I am unsure if this says more about the legality of the move or the technical decentralisation of cell phone tower data making it technically difficult to track the whole population

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