Data Privacy

US Wants Smartphone Location Data to Fight Coronavirus, Worrying Privacy Advocates

Federal health officials say they could use anonymous, aggregated user data collected by the tech companies to map the spread of the virus

Man at steering wheel checks messages on smartphone
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are asking Facebook, Google and other tech giants to give them greater access to Americans' smartphone location data in order to help them combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to four people at companies involved in the discussions who are not authorized to speak about them publicly.

Federal health officials say they could use anonymous, aggregated user data collected by the tech companies to map the spread of the virus — a practice known as "syndromic surveillance" — and prevent further infections, NBC News reports. They could also use the data to see whether people were practicing "social distancing."

Some sources stressed that the effort would be anonymized and that government would not have access to specific individuals' locations. They noted that users would be required to opt-in to the effort.

Coronavirus Pandemic

Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you

Virus Updates: Fla. Reports Record Deaths; CDC Won't Revise School Guidelines

Trump Threatens Funding If Schools Don't Reopen

The federal effort, first reported by The Washington Post, will force the tech giants to weigh their commitments to user privacy against their desire to help combat a disease that has cost thousands of human lives and upended the global economy.

Read the full story on NBCNews.com.

Contact Us