The initiative will only be available to American users to start, but could potentially be made available to those in other countries if it proves useful in combatting the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Facebook announced on 6 April that it would be expanding its Data for Good program, which grants academic researchers access to user data regarding movement patterns, in order to better improve the overall understand of how COVID-19 spreads.
Writing in a blog post, Facebook shared that the program already offers “maps on population movement that researchers and nonprofits are already using to understand the coronavirus crisis, using aggregated data to protect people’s privacy”. Through this update, it will now grant researchers access to three new maps that will be used to help forecast the virus’ spread.
The first is a co-location map, which will show the degree to which users who live in different areas are coming into contact with one another, helping to show where possible cases may appear next.
The movement range trends chart will show the degree to which users in a certain region are going out and staying at home, providing “insights into whether preventative measures are headed in the right direction”.
Finally, the social connectedness index will show how likely it is for any two people to become friends on the social networking site, allowing researchers to not only predict where the virus might spread next, but forecast any potential impact COVID-19 may have on the region’s economy.
The expansion of the Data for Good program is designed to improve forecasting and response efforts both within the United States and abroad.
American users will notice a prompt at the top of their news feed, asking them to anonymously participate in a survey from Carnegie Mellon University, wherein they self-report any potential symptoms they may be experiencing. The hope is to provide researchers insight into where the virus has started to retreat and where it continues to spread, and how best to divide resources:
“This information can help health systems plan where resources are needed and potentially when, where and how to reopen parts of society.”
Those wanting to learn more about the program’s expansion can do so via Facebook’s official blog.