Weighing The Risks
The last couple of months have and will continue to be defining in the lives of humans throughout the globe. Filled with misinformation, confusion and sheer devastation, we are societies on the verge of collapse in every sense of the word. On top of that, we are all losing our jobs, confined to our homes and trying our best to meet the needs of our fellow man. The joys that we found in active social lives and human connection is ground to a halt. There is a disconnect with those who may see their risk as limited, not understanding the situation or just not interested. Coronavirus has nearly exploded in the US. Not really a chart we want to be at the top of.
As Governments, business and medical professionals in the US scramble to keep up with the best practices in order to save lives, data companies have a big dilemma on their hands. With the vast amounts of tracking, location pinging, and information gathering, Social Media sites can tell the true story of how Americans are complying with various shelter-in-place directives. Whatever your personal stance on privacy might be, if you are on Social Media right now, your personal identifier information is being stripped and sent to researchers, public health officials and government representatives in a desperate fight to quell the spread of the virus.
Google Joins The Effort
At the urging of public health officials all over the world, Google just announced they would release personal identifier stripped information to show mobility reports of people in cities.
I’ll admit at first hearing about all this data sharing, I was very concerned and not at all on-board with the big brother nature of it all. How would potentially dangerous and, frankly, violations of our freedom help to stop this deadly virus? Digging deeper, I was even more shocked by the data I would soon find.
The Spring Break Connection
Early in March, we saw it all over the news, interviews with partygoers on the beach not heeding any direction to stay at home. It is one thing to make a news story out of it while thinking to yourself silently “those darn kids” but it’s a whole different story when you see the frightening impact. The following graph from a data collection firm tells a frightening tale straight out of a movie like Contagion. Actually, this spider graph is downright horrific.
Want to see the true potential impact of ignoring social distancing? Through a partnership with @xmodesocial, we analyzed secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during spring break. This is where they went across the US: pic.twitter.com/3A3ePn9Vin
— Tectonix GEO (@TectonixGEO) March 25, 2020
This data brings with it a whole new dimension on the story. Turns out, it isn’t as black and white as it seemed to be at first. Because, as the data shows, one innocent gathering on the Fort Lauderdale beaches can have a devastating butterfly effect on the rest of the country and world.
Looking At The Data Another Way
Aside from misguided Spring Breakers, the rest of the country must be complying with best practices from the advice, scratch that, begging of Doctors and health officials right? Turns out, depending on where you live that is not the case. The map below from another data collection company, Unacast, continues on with the story of whether Americans are staying put. The graph is sobering and easy to read, if your state is green you are staying put. If you are orange you are not.
The Next Wave
I don’t necessarily think that the data should shame any particular state. The orange states are not full of rebellious people, they were just not directed to take action as of the snapshot of the data. But it shows the real need for shelter-in-place directives for the states that are not on the coasts and the next to get hit. In fact, as of today, Wyoming is now under a social distancing protocol so what is seen happening on the coasts does not devastate the more rural inland states. The graph below literally shows the virus migrating inland across the states.
The biggest fear from critics is that tracking people big-brother style feels eerily similar to the overuse of tracking personal information after 9/11. Based on the charts influence to help inform and convince inland states to take action, does that change your stance on cell phone tracking? Would the data to inform these states be as compelling any other way?
- Data sharing requires transparency. It may be too presumptuous to take information and say personal identifying information is stripped. As we know, data is data and the information is always there. At the very least, alerts should be sent out to inform new data releases.
- Maps tell a story of movement. I found the data powerful in the form of map storytelling. Especially in the case of a moving virus or general population, maps tell a compelling story.
- If you want to persuade, let the data speak. I was convinced of the powerful tool that data could provide in public health directives after watching the spider graph movie.
Brody, B., & Nix, N. (2020). Pandemic Data-Sharing Puts New Pressure on Privacy Protections. Retrieved April 05, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-05/pandemic-data-sharing-puts-new-pressure-on-privacy-protections