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Photo: Google

Google late Thursday announced a program to give leaders around the world more data during the coronavirus crisis on where people are traveling (and where they aren't) based on aggregate, anonymous data collected by Google Maps.

Why it matters: Health experts have been asking for more location data to make decisions. This move aims to meet some of those needs without sharing sensitive individual data.

Details: The COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, as the new documents are known, will show recent trends (over the past 48 to 72 hours) of the percentage increase or decrease in visits to places like retail stores, recreation spots, groceries and pharmacies, parks, workplaces and residential locations.

  • Google will offer the reports initially for 131 countries, offering data at the regional and local level (in the U.S. it will provide data for states and counties).
  • Google is sharing the reports with governments and releasing it publicly, but it is not sharing the underlying data, which comes from Google Maps users who have opted in to share data. (Google has used such data in the past to show how busy various restaurants and bars tend to be at a particular time.)

What the reports do: The new information could help leaders get a sense for how well shelter-in-place orders are working and whether different measures might be needed to reduce traffic to a particular kind of location or, say, whether more or less public transit is needed at a given time.

What they don't do: These reports won't allow authorities to track individuals, trace contacts or glean information on who is infected. Google is also only showing the percentage change for each category in the report, not the absolute number.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

2 hours ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."