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Google, Facebook and Apple called to fight the epidemic with data

A U.S. government plan is to collect location data from smartphones and then use it anonymously to map the spread of the disease.

Combat the coronavirus epidemic with our personal data. The US government is discussing with Facebook, Google and other tech companies the potential use of this data, according to information from the Washington Post published Wednesday March 18. The project would involve collecting location data from Americans' smartphones and then using it anonymously to map the spread of the disease and predict future urgent medical needs, for example. Google and Facebook did not respond to AFP requests.

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The subject of the use of personal data is sensitive, after several scandals which have splashed both social networks and federal institutions such as the NSA (National Security Agency). But pressure is mounting for Silicon Valley groups to use their technologies to fight Covid-19 disease. Fifty scientists signed an open letter last week calling on them to mobilize.

“A system to better contain epidemics”

“It is clear that large-scale efforts by technology platforms could tip the scales on the right side to contain the pandemic and save thousands if not millions of lives”, write these doctors, epidemiologists and researchers. Among other suggestions, they recommend social networks to broadcast educational videos, Uber to distribute disinfectant products to its drivers and Amazon to limit the number of masks and hydro-alcoholic gels that can be sold per person.

As for Apple and Google, “They should integrate into the operating system of the phones a tracking tool, which users could choose to activate, anonymously, to find out if they have been in the presence of identified cases”. People could quarantine themselves if necessary and watch for the appearance of any symptoms. “In the longer term, such a system would better contain other future epidemics”, they add. “Tracking contacts between people has worked well in China and South Korea, and such a tool would make this method usable everywhere, on a large scale.”

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