Facebook has helped raise awareness and understanding of the spread of the Covid-19 infection in Germany.
The popular social network carried out special data analytics that proved very useful during the pandemic.
LMU Munich’s Covid-19 study with Facebook data
Statistician Cornelius Fritz and his team at LMU Munich used Facebook to understand how the Covid-19 infection spread.
All they needed to do was access Facebook’s Data for Good to analyze users’ mobility, check their movements, and predict the course of the infection based on daily behaviors.
Professor Fritz explained in this regard:
“We are using mobility data to understand how movement patterns and human relationships influence the spread of COVID-19 at the local level. To this end, we used anonymized data from about 10 million Facebook users. We would not have been able to accomplish this without Facebook’s Data for Good program.”
In the research, it is explained that Facebook data was essential to track movements but also to know the links between people, and to verify the probability that they met or gathered, staying in the same place for a long time. This information was also used to understand how well people respected the necessary social distancing.
The results showed that their predictions about the spread of contagion proved to be accurate.
The French study
Similar research to that of LMU Munich was conducted at the Ecole Polytechnique in France and by the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Athens.
Both analyzed Facebook maps to develop a model to understand the spread of Covid-19, based on people’s movements. The study was applied to four countries:
The outcome of the analysis, according to the Disease Prevention Maps developed by Facebook, allowed for accurate predictions on the spread of contagion.
This research has created a model available to policy makers to develop appropriate prevention policies.
Facebook Data for Good
Facebook’s database called Data for Good has been used for this research.
It is a travel analysis that has proved particularly useful in gathering information on the spread of the virus. But this is not the only use case.
In fact, Data for Good has also been used for other purposes, for example in research related to climate change, environmental disasters, or to make maps of population density or business activities.
Even if used for noble purposes such as research, this data could open a big question: what about users’ privacy?
In fact, some data is public, such as satellite imagery and census data, while others are not.
As for the private data, Facebook claims to be stealing it by protecting user privacy:
- Hiding identity from information,
- Providing aggregated data;
- Combining them with others to prevent those involved from being identified,
- Following legal guidelines on the subject.
Ultimately, Facebook’s past problems related to the use of user data (as in the case of Cambridge Analytica), seem to be only the negative side of the issue. There is a silver lining, therefore, that shows that positive things can also be accomplished with the data that users cede to the social network, as in the case of these searches that had the sole purpose of preventing the spread of the pandemic.