Google Is Helping Governments Create Mass Coronavirus Surveillance

A police officer wearing a protective face mask stands in front of the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
April 7, 2020 Topic: Technology Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: GoogleCoronavirusCOVID-19Big TechSurveillance

Google Is Helping Governments Create Mass Coronavirus Surveillance

Public health or Big Brother?

Google is creating instruments helping health officials track people’s movements to help them determine if citizens are complying with social distancing guidelines, according to the company’s website.

The big tech company plans to regularly update the so-called “community mobility reports,” Google noted in a post late Thursday. The reports display the change in people’s visits to public places such as grocery stores, parks, homes and so forth, according to the company.

Google’s tools rely on “aggregated, anonymized sets of data” that the company has collected through Google Maps and other apps throughout the years.

“No personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, will be made available at any point,” Google noted.

There’s a hitch. The insights Google can collect from the tool is dependent upon a user turning on the Location History, which is turned off by default.Google’s decision comes after The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Palantir and Google are helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deploy geolocation technology as a way of tracking the virus outbreak.

Palantir and others are providing the government help locating people through their phones, as well as facial-recognition tech that can assist in finding people who contacted individuals who later tested positive for coronavirus, TheWSJ noted, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Tech experts warn about collecting geolocation data, according to a report Monday from The Washington Post.

More than 50% of the tech experts WaPo surveyed said the United States should not emulate South Korea, Israel and China in using the kinds of tools Palantir is suggesting. Still other experts said the mass digital surveillance might be necessary to tackle coronavirus, the survey noted.

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Image: Reuters.