COVID-19: Government uses phone data to track virus

Photo Courtesy: CNN
Photo Courtesy: CNN(KOLO)
Published: Apr. 12, 2020 at 1:54 AM PDT
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New Mexico is using smartphone data to help track and combat the spread of coronavirus.

The state has just under 1,100 cases and the Governor wants to know, if people are following social distancing guidelines.

Official government orders to stay at Home, stare you in the face. But are you obeying them?

A tech company Unacast knows. Grading the nation, state by state and even county by county.

As of Friday, Nevada, Vermont and California were at the top of the list as far as residents staying put. Six states were near failing. But overall, the United States got a C+.

How do they do it? By tracking cell phone data. And now some state governments are hiring companies to do it too. They develop social distancing models that gauge how well residents are adhering to stay-at-home orders.

"As we dig deeper using cell phone data," said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The state of New Mexico, one of the first to go public about, hiring a company Descartes Lab to get cell phone GEO location statistics.

"We came up with a way to measure statistically, how far a typical person in the community was going away from where they started the day," said Mike Warren, Co-Founder, Descartes Labs.

Warren says other states have also signed on during the pandemic.

China goes even further, it's using citizen’s smart phones to control their movement around their cities. A QR code on their phone determines where they can go.

He says the data sold to the U.S. government is just statistics, anonymous information that does not reveal who the phone belongs to.

But you play a role in being tracked too. When you download certain apps and agree to let them use your GEO location on your phone, that data is being used by third party companies and advertisers, and now some state and local governments.

There are plenty of companies buying the tracking data. Xmode collected spring breakers phone data and another company Tectonix says it was able to show, where those spring breakers ended up.