Smartphone data reveal which Americans are social distancing (and not)
D.C. gets an 'A' while Wyoming earns an 'F' for following coronavirus stay-at-home advice, based on the locations of tens of millions of phones
If you have a smartphone, you’re probably contributing to a massive coronavirus surveillance system.
And it’s revealing where Americans have — and haven’t — been practicing social distancing.
On Tuesday, a company called Unacast that collects and analyzes phone GPS location data launched a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that grades, county by county, which residents are changing behavior at the urging of health officials. It uses the reduction in the total distance we travel as a rough index for whether we’re staying put at home.
Comparing the nation’s mass movements from March 20 to an average Friday, Washington, D.C., gets an A, while Wyoming as a whole earns an F.
How do they know that? Efforts to track public health during the coronavirus pandemic are a reminder of the many ways phones reveal our personal lives, both as individuals and in the aggregate. Unacast’s location data comes from games, shopping and utility apps that tens of millions of Americans have installed on their phones — information the company normally analyzes for retailers, real estate firms and marketers. It’s part of a shadowy world of location tracking that consumers often have little idea is going on.