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Google measures traffic drops linked to containment using geolocation data

In France, the use of places of entertainment dropped by 88%, that of food shops by 72% and that of parks and gardens by 82%.

Frequent fall attendance in public places and shops. This is the unsurprising assessment of confinement in France, according to data published by Google (pdf file) Friday, April 3. To establish these figures, Google uses the location data of its users.

Since the restrictive measures announced in mid-March by the government to curb the progression of the coronavirus, attendance at places of entertainment (restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries and cinemas) has dropped by 88% compared to the attendance observed during normal periods.

The only businesses to be authorized to open despite the confinement, supermarkets, markets, food businesses and pharmacies are still much less visited than before, with a drop in attendance of 72%, according to these data. The fall is 82% for parks, beaches, squares and public gardens, 87% for stations, metro stations and bus stops, and 56% for workplaces. The only category to record an increase in attendance: places of residence (+ 18%). More detailed figures, region by region, are also available.

With this data, Google intends to help the public authorities to assess the effectiveness of social distancing measures against the coronavirus. Downloadable on a dedicated site for more than 131 countries including France, these reports must reveal the “general trends in the movement of people over time and by geographic area, in different categories of places such as leisure places, food shops, pharmacies, parks, public transport stations, places work and residence “, explains the American giant on his official blog.

“We will post trends over several weeks” in the form of“an increase or decrease in the percentage of visits”, not an absolute number, says the article signed by Google’s geographic product manager (including Maps) Jen Fitzpatrick and Google Health’s chief medical officer Karen DeSalvo. The most recent information will date “48 to 72 hours”.

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“We hope these reports will help [les responsables de la santé publique] to make decisions on how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, this information could help managers understand changing trends in essential travel, which could lead them to make new recommendations regarding opening hours or delivery service offerings, “ explains Google.

Like detecting traffic jams or measuring traffic to businesses on Google Maps, these reports use data “aggregated and anonymized” of Google users who have activated “location history”, which can be deleted or interrupted in the account settings.

“To protect the privacy of individuals, no personally identifiable information, such as the location, contacts or movements of a person, is made available”, Google writes. To prevent any attempt to identify a person in the data set, the company has implemented a statistical technique called “differential confidentiality” which adds “noise” in the raw data while keeping statistics close to reality.

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