Apple Developing Mobility Tracking Tool To Aid Coronavirus Combatants

Apple will compile data from Apple Maps requests that illustrates changes in mobility patterns, delivering insights to policymakers looking to stem the global outbreak.


Apple released a tool Tuesday aggregating travel data from Apple Maps users as part of its efforts to empower those on the front lines of the coronavirus battle.

The tool feeds mobility data into a website Apple hopes will deliver valuable insights to governments and health agencies developing policies to stem the spread of the outbreak.

The tool records requests people make to Apple Maps for directions in the regions it functions around the world. By comparing that data to past travel patterns, it can help policymakers appreciate changes in the number of people driving, walking or taking public transit in those areas.

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The mobility data is not associated with the user’s Apple ID, and Apple said it doesn’t keep any data on where a specific user has been.

But the aggregation of data from all users can go far in illustrating mobility trends. The app will work in major cities across 63 countries and regions, Apple said.

Availability in any specific city or country will depend on several factors, including whether that region reaches the minimum threshold for direction requests on any given day.

Apple assured its customers that privacy protections are built directly into Maps.

The data collected on search terms, navigation routing and traffic information “is associated with random, rotating identifiers that continually reset, so Apple doesn’t have a profile of your movements and searches.”

Last week, the coronavirus crisis united Apple with rival Google in a project to enable mobile phones to trace people’s movements and their proximity to others who may have contracted or been exposed to the novel virus that’s frozen the global economy.

The fierce competitors in the mobility market said together they could fast-track a contact-tracing solution that gives public health officials another tool in fighting the global outbreak.

That contact-tracing app also raises major concerns about privacy that the two companies acknowledged and looked to allay.

In May, Apple and Google will release APIs that empower developers from public health agencies to build contact-tracing applications that are interoperable across their rival mobile operating systems and can be downloaded from their respective app stores.

And “in the coming months” the Bluetooth-based functionality will be built directly into the iOS and Android platforms, allowing even more participants and better integration with a broader ecosystem of apps and public health agencies, Apple and Google said.