Apple publishes Maps mobility data to aid COVID-19 struggle

Apple's deeply interesting mobility data shows how the public's walking, driving and public transit use has changed in recent weeks as the pandemic spread.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, Apple Maps

Apple has released detailed mobility data gleaned from its Maps app that dramatically shows how the public's walking, driving and public transit use has changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re traveling a lot less

The information shows huge reductions in travel taken across most countries and larger cities globally. In London, people are using public transit 89% less frequently than they were before, the data shows, while in San Francisco transit travel has fallen 84%.

Apple published this information to provide government and health authorities with information that may help them make informed decisions during the pandemic, the company said.

How did it get the data?

Apple says it generated the data based on Apple Maps requests. The information is aggregated and analyzed in order to provide a fairly accurate representation of how people's habits have changed.

“The information is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions. The data sets are then compared to reflect a change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit around the world. Data availability in a particular city, country, or region is subject to a number of factors, including minimum thresholds for direction requests made per day,” the company said in a statement.

Is the information private?

In line with the company’s usual commitment to privacy, Apple claims this information is anonymized. It does not associate mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, and does not keep a history of where a user has been.

Data collected by Maps, like search terms, navigation routing and traffic information, is associated with random, rotating identifiers that continually reset, "So Apple doesn’t have a profile of your movements and searches,” the company said.

The idea is that you as a user get the information you need while your privacy remains protected.

What else is Apple doing?

The company has also confirmed some of the many steps it is taking and continues to take in response to the pandemic:

  • It has sourced and donated more than 20 million face masks for medics.
  • Apple is shipping more than 1 million face masks each week.
  • It helped Stanford Medicine build a new symptoms checking app for first responders.
  • Siri Audio Briefs for COVID-19 provide the latest news and information about the pandemic through short podcasts from trusted news providers.
  • Siri can guide you through a symptoms checker.
  • Apple Maps now prioritizes grocery, food delivery and medical services.
  • Apple has put together a collection of telehealth apps on the App Store.
  • It has also provided a heap of content and services to help adapt to remote working and virtual learning.
  • The company has made available COVID-19 resources to keep people informed and help them take care of themselves.
  • It has, of course, teamed up with Google for a new form of contact tracing.
  • It is also supporting an online benefit gig with Lady Gaga.
  • And the company has taken a multitude of additional steps beyond these.

You can explore Apple’s newly published Mobility Trends tools here.

Additional resources

I’ve written a selection of useful stories to help you through current events. You can read them here:

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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