Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Apple releases Maps mobility data to help researchers track spread of COVID-19

The new tool provides mobility data for 'major cities and 63 countries or regions'.

Apple has made its mobility data from Apple Maps available to researchers around the world as part of efforts to help them better understand how coronavirus is being spread throughout communities. 

The data will be available for a limited time as an online tool and can be downloaded as a CSV. Apple's mobility trends tool is similar to those that were rolled out by Google and Facebook earlier this month.

According to Apple, the mobility trends tool uses aggregated data collected from Apple Maps to show the volume in which people are driving, walking, or taking public transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data is generated by "counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions".

apple-mobility-trend-tool.png

Example of mobility data from Apple's new tool.

Image: Apple

So far, the datasets cover the mobility trends for "major cities and 63 countries or regions", with data for a particular city, country, or region needing to fulfil a number of factors, such as the minimum thresholds for direction requests made per day, before it is made available in the tool.

In releasing the tool, Apple said that it has built privacy protections into Apple Maps, which includes not associating mobility data with a user's Apple ID and not keeping a history of their location. 

"While protecting your privacy, we are sharing aggregated mobility data from Apple Maps to help public health authorities learn how people travel in their communities and to provide valuable insights to stop the spread of COVID-19," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet

Last week, Apple announced it was working alongside Google to build contact tracing tools that use people's phones to alert them if they have been near someone who has contracted COVID-19. 

The joint effort focuses on the use of Bluetooth technology to identify potential hotspots of coronavirus transmission and track the spread of coronavirus based on smartphone location data. 

As of Wednesday, the World Health Organization reported there are nearly 1.85 million confirmed cases, with over 117,000 fatalities as a result of the virus.