Facebook launches COVID-19 symptom maps

The heat maps show an estimated percentage of symptomatic people in every US county based on data from a CMU Delphi Research Center survey taken by a sampling of Facebook users​.

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Facebook and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have released the first of a series of heat maps that track self-reported symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

The maps show an estimated percentage of symptomatic people in every US county based on data from a CMU Delphi Research Center survey taken by a sampling of Facebook users. CMU is also working with Google to conduct opt-in surveys on COVID-19 symptoms. 

In an op-ed published Monday in The Washington Post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the goal is to use Facebook's massive global reach to help researchers and health authorities gather critical data that they need to respond to the health crisis. The data gathered by these surveys could help governments and health systems allocate resources and prepare for the gradual reopening of society, he said. 

"The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good," Zuckerberg said. "If we use it responsibly, I'm optimistic that data can help the world respond to this health crisis and get us started on the road to recovery."  

Zuckerburg noted that Facebook only sees the aggregate data collected as part of these surveys. The individual survey responses are only available to CMU researchers. 

"It's important that organizations involved in this work commit to doing it in a way that protects people's information and that any data collected is used solely for responding to public health emergencies and for other crisis response efforts," Zuckerberg said. "Fighting the pandemic has required taking unprecedented measures across society, but it shouldn't mean sacrificing our privacy."

Facebook started showing the CMU Delphi survey to users earlier this month as part of its broader coronavirus response, which also includes a COVID-19 information center in News Feed. The hub is meant to put information from authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in front of Facebook users and curb the spread of misinformation.