UCSF asks public to share their Google location data to improve contact tracing

University of California, San Francisco scientists are launching Covidseeker, a new study  examining the spread of COVID-19 using people’s self-donated Google location data.

The researchers are asking that anyone with a Google account download their location data and donate it to the effort so they can better determine where people were most likely to have contracted COVID-19, insight that will be especially important as more schools and businesses reopen.

After participants give consent, they can choose which data they want to donate. All data will be deidentified and will only be shared with public agencies, such as state and local public health departments and the National Institutes of Health, which is funding the effort.

“We don’t just want people who are COVID-19 positive; we also want people who are negative, because we want to know what behaviors are protective,” Yulin Hswen, PhD, the UCSF epidemiology and biostatistics professor who designed Covidseeker, said in a news release. “This will help policy makers adapt and fine-tune their public health strategies to be more responsive to what is actually happening.”

Google’s movement timelines can make it easier for COVID-19-positive individuals to remember where they’ve been and who they came into contact with when they were most infectious. These individuals can discuss the circumstances of each contact with case investigators to better determine transmission patterns and risks.

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