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The Financial Express

‘Visit to retail shops, recreational locations slump 68pc’

Google’s location data shows


Published: April 03, 2020 16:45:11 | Updated: April 05, 2020 16:55:14


‘Visit to retail shops, recreational locations slump 68pc’

Visits to retail shops and recreational locations in Bangladesh slumped 68 per cent between February 16 and March 29 as the impact of the nationwide shutdown panned out, according to Google's analysis of location data from users' phones.

Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, published reports for Bangladesh and 130 other countries on Friday, showing whether visits to shops, parks and workplaces dropped in March, when many governments around the world issued stay-at-home orders to rein in the spread of the novel coronavirus, reports bdnews24.com citing a Reuters report.

Its reports show charts that compare traffic from February 16 to March 29 at subway, train and bus stations, grocery stores and other broad categories of places with a five-week period earlier this year.

Traffic through transit stations, including bus and train hubs in Bangladesh, fell 66 per cent, compared to the baseline in the same period. Workplace mobility is down 60 per cent and mobility trends for places like grocery markets, drug stores and pharmacies went down 46 per cent.

One indicator in Bangladesh trended up: mobility trends for places of residence increased 24 per cent.

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, visits to retail and recreation locations, including restaurants and movie theaters, plunged 94 per cent while visits to workplaces slid 63 per cent. Reflecting the severity of the crisis there, grocery and pharmacy visits in Italy dropped 85 per cent and park visits were down by 90 per cent.

The data also underscore some challenges authorities have faced in keeping people apart. Grocery store visits surged in Singapore, the United Kingdom and elsewhere as travel restrictions were set to go into place. Visits to parks spiked in March in some San Francisco Bay Area counties, forcing them to later put the sites off limits.

By contrast, in Japan where authorities have been relatively relaxed in urging social distancing measures but where calls have been growing daily for a state of emergency, visits to retail and recreational places fell 26 per cent. Visits to workplaces dropped a mere 9 per cent.

The coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people globally, and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, has killed 52,000, according to a Reuters tally.

BALANCING PRIVACY

Facebook Inc, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

Infectious disease specialists have said analysing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.

Google, which infers demographics from users' internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to including additional information and countries in follow-up reports.

"These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies," Dr Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post.

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

China, Singapore, South Korea and other countries have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties.

Data in Google's reports come from users who enabled Google's "Location History" feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.

Consultations with officials in California, Texas, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization helped inform data shared, Google said.

The company declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.

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