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Google knows if you have been staying home during Covid-19

By Liu Hongzuo - on 11 Apr 2020, 10:55am

Google knows if you have been staying home during Covid-19

Note: This article was first published on 6 April 2020.

Singapore's Covid-19 circuit breaker measures have been the talk of the town over the weekend. Until 4 May 2020, businesses are expected to telecommute or shut down, with those exempted listed as essential services, while people are asked not to socialise beyond their households. Have we been moving around that much? That depends on where you look and who you ask.

Google recently launched the Covid-19 Community Mobility Report to help public health officials and nosey people see how their respective communities move about during the ongoing outbreak. Each report is broken down by country with data available up until 29 March 2020 as of writing. The reports look at six key locations in any territory or country:

  • retail and recreation (which includes your restaurants and shopping malls)
  • grocery and pharmacy
  • parks (which includes beaches and public gardens)
  • transit stations
  • workplaces
  • and residential areas.

Google compares the current footfall with its baseline, which is the median value according to its corresponding day of the week. That means that the data has already been adjusted to account for weekday versus weekend activity between 3 January to 6 February 2020, before Covid-19 hit hard.

Is Google's data accurate? Well, Google's human traffic information was created using aggregated and anonymised sets of data. It's from users who turned on Location History in their settings, which applies to mobile devices with Google Accounts (if you're on Google Maps, it's the same kind of data being used to make these reports). Singapore has a mobile penetration rate of 154% as of May 2019, which means each of us is likely to have more than one mobile device around us at any given time.

Below is Singapore's report:

So far, transit stations, alongside retail and recreation areas have been the most significant drops in footfall (40% and 28% drops respectively), with 15% more people hanging out in their places of residence across the week.

While those are drastic changes, it's fair to say Singapore hasn't been hit as hard as, say, the United States (report here), which saw a 47% drop in retail and recreation footfall and a whopping 51% drop in transit stations.

Also, if you take a closer look at Singapore's grocery and pharmacy data, you can even see a tiny little spike above baseline on a particular day. That is the shame of panic buyers forever immortalised on Google's dataset.

Interested in the data? You can head over to Google's Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports here to infer from.