The Use of Mobility Data for Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted: 7 Oct 2021

See all articles by Stefaan Verhulst

Stefaan Verhulst

New York University (NYU) - The GovLab

Andrew J. Zahuranec

New York University (NYU)

Andrew Young

New York University (NYU)

Aditi Ramesh

New York University (NYU) - The GovLab

Date Written: March 24, 2021

Abstract

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the way people move, work, and gather, governments, businesses, and public health researchers have looked increasingly at mobility data to support pandemic response. This data, assets that describe human location and movement, generally has been collected for purposes directly related to a company’s business model, including optimizing the delivery of consumer services, supply chain management or targeting advertisements. However, these call detail records, smartphone-mobility data, vehicle-derived GPS, and other mobility data assets can also be used to study patterns of movement. These patterns of movement have, in turn, been used by organizations to forecast disease spread and inform decisions on how to best manage activity in certain locations.

Researchers at The GovLab and Cuebiq, supported by the Open Data Institute, identified 51 notable projects from around the globe launched by public sector and research organizations with companies that use mobility data for these purposes. It curated five projects among this listing that highlight the specific opportunities (and risks) presented by using this asset. Though few of these highlighted projects have provided public outputs that make assessing project success difficult, organizations interviewed considered mobility data to be a useful asset that enabled better public health surveillance, supported existing decision-making processes, or otherwise allowed groups to achieve their research goals.

The report summarizes some of the major points identified in those case studies. While acknowledging that location data can be a highly sensitive data type that can facilitate surveillance or expose data subjects if used carelessly, it finds mobility data can support research and inform decisions when applied toward narrowly defined research questions through frameworks that acknowledge and proactively mitigate risk. These frameworks can vary based on the individual circumstances facing data users, suppliers, and subjects. However, there are a few conditions that can enable users and suppliers to promote publicly beneficial and responsible data use and overcome the serious obstacles facing them.

Keywords: mobility data, data, data collaborative, COVID-19, pandemic response

Suggested Citation

Verhulst, Stefaan and Zahuranec, Andrew and Young, Andrew and Ramesh, Aditi, The Use of Mobility Data for Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic (March 24, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3937659

Stefaan Verhulst (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - The GovLab ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Andrew Zahuranec

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Andrew Young

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Aditi Ramesh

New York University (NYU) - The GovLab ( email )

2 MetroTech Center, 9th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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