Australian researchers claim that anonymized data may be used by the authorities to classify the spread of coronavirus based on where people have traveled
A recent Australian study has found that anonymized Facebook travel data could be used to classify the spread of Covid-19 in areas where it is not yet reported to the health authorities. Researchers from the University of Melbourne analyzed anonymized population mobility data provided by Facebook as part of its Data for Good initiative, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface on Wednesday, to decide if it could be a helpful indicator in evaluating the spread of covid outbreaks based on where people have traveled. The research investigated three outbreaks in Australia: the Cedar Meats outbreak in western Melbourne, the larger second wave in Victoria, and the outbreak at the Crossroads Hotel in New South Wales. The Facebook page of Pete Evans was deleted for violating Covid post misinformation guidelines.
The data were also more helpful in predicting the spread of the virus in the Cedar Meats outbreak in the case studies than in the Crossroads Hotel outbreak. When evaluating the second wave in Victoria, which began with suburban lockdowns in late June and early July, the analysis found that the mobility data may have warned the government that the spread had already progressed beyond the initial spread. “Our examination of the second wave of community transmission in Victoria showed that the spatial distribution of a small number of active cases several weeks before the outbreak was detected pointed to the distribution of the outbreak more than 30 days later, when interventions were introduced,” the researchers said in the paper. Even if case numbers were low, low-level group transmission might have already occurred in the Greater Melbourne area, this finding indicates. This suggests that previous limited cordon steps that reached beyond the borders of regions where cases were reported could have been more successful in containing transmission. Lead researcher at the University of Melbourne Cameron Zachreson told Guardian Australia it was too hard to tell if the knowledge may have altered the decision-making of the Victorian government about when to cordon
I believe [it]became quite clear that this strategy was not going to be enough. Facebook eliminates false claims about Covid vaccinesRead moreZachreson said that in cases where not much is known about an outbreak, the data would be helpful. “Facebook removes false claims about Covid vaccinesRead moreZachreson said the data would be useful in cases where not much is known about an outbreak. ” A signal is certainly there.
There would be high-risk areas, but they are not in the data, as in the Crossroads outbreak, where there were cases in the Blue Mountains. That was because these people were going a long way on a journey they wouldn’t usually have.
Instead of concentrating on arbitrary local government areas or entire towns, Zachreson said the data could also be used by policymakers to decide where possible hotspots should be declared, as is currently the case in Sydney. Zachreson emphasized that the information would not allow researchers to identify someone because it had already been anonymized by Facebook. Also, governments would not be able to access unedited researchers’ results, which means they would not be able to classify individuals via the dataset as well.