How Sharing Your Coronavirus Symptoms Through Facebook Can Help Beat The Pandemic

Topline: Facebook

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is the latest tech giant to pitch into help fight the coronavirus pandemic by asking its users to share their symptoms to help Carnegie Mellon epidemiologists identify hotspots of the pneumonia-like virus.

  • Facebook announced on Monday that it will direct U.S. users to the optional survey, run by the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, via a link at the top of their news feeds. Google

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    is already running a similar survey through its opinion rewards app.

  • Epidemiologists at CMU hope to create a ‘heat map’ of self-reported coronavirus symptoms and work out the effectiveness of social distancing measures, and the measure could be expanded to other countries if successful, Facebook said.
  • The social media giant said CMU would not share individual survey responses with Facebook, and “Facebook won’t share information about who you are with the researchers.”
  • Facebook says it will also expand its disease prevention maps—aggregate location data used by researchers to track population movement in the midst of social distancing measures—and introduce three new maps.
  • The new maps include one which can help predict where coronavirus cases might emerge next, and another tracking how far from home people are travelling, to help researchers see how well stay-at-home orders are working.
  • Facebook also hopes to help researchers see how COVID-19 could spread more widely, by mapping out Facebook friendships across states and countries. The company said the data shows information at a county or city level, not individual data.

Crucial comment: “COVID-19 has inherent delays that challenge the pace at which we seek to evaluate policy impact towards a measured response,” said Daniel Klein, Ph.D., from the Institute for Disease Modeling.

“Mobility data from Facebook’s Data for Good program provides a near real-time view of important correlates of disease transmission. This data, in combination with other sources, allows us to make better models to inform public health decisions.”

Key background: Tech companies including Apple

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, Google and Facebook have been called on by authorities to leverage data from billions of users to help researchers and governments better implement their COVID-19 responses. Last week, Google started publishing anonymized location data to track how busy public spaces such as transport hubs, offices, shops and parks are during the pandemic, to help map out how effective lockdowns have been so far.

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