Google’s new data reveals global lockdowns are working amid coronavirus crisis

Tech giant Google published statistics on whether or not the coronavirus lockdowns have been effective around the world. Yahoo Finance’s Tech Editor Dan Howley weighs in.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Now I want to turn to Dan Howley, because we are now seeing reports that Google is trying to help with tracking of coronavirus cases-- both to help the government, but it also brings up a lot of questions about privacy. So, thorny issue here. Dan, talk to us about how Google is doing this and what that data is being used for.

DAN HOWLEY: Yeah, so Google is doing what's called a "community tracker." And basically what that does is, it allows you to look at a bunch of different spreadsheets through various countries-- and here in the US, each state-- and see where people are traveling and where they're not.

So they break this down into various categories. It's not specific locations. So if you're in, say, California you wouldn't be able to look at, say, Golden Gate Bridge State Park, or here in New York, Ellis Island-- something along those lines. It's just broad categories, like parks, groceries, pharmacies, train stations, which encompasses subways, bus stations, and trains-- things along those lines.

And what we're seeing is, in states that are heavily impacted like New York, you're seeing huge decreases in visits from people to those locations-- in particular, parks. Those are down drastically in New York. Whereas in other states, you are seeing reductions in some of these categories.

But parks are way up. In Nebraska, for instance, visits to parks are up 109%, for whatever reason. People feel that they're able to go there because it's outdoors, perhaps. But it might not lead to good social distancing.

Now, this is all coming from Google's data that it uses for its maps software. Now, that's used regularly in the software itself to measure traffic jams. So that's how they get information like this. It's all anonymized, they say, though. And it's not using anything in particular that would be able to identify you or the specific location you visit. So they say that's not something to fear, and that this is being used specifically to provide information to governments to help them understand where people are going and then what kind of processes to take to ensure better social distancing.



RICK NEWMAN: I haven't going to howl at you lately since I don't see you around the hallways. It's Newman. What happened to the Google website President Trump said the company was going to set up? Did that materialize or not at all?

DAN HOWLEY: It did. But it didn't seem to be providing much information to a large number of people. And it did start to suffer from an inundation of people going to it as it launched. So this seems to be the one that people really want to pay attention to.

I think the idea, for Americans at least, of some kind of tracking software that we saw, for instance, in China, that the UK said that they were toying with wouldn't really fly here as far as tracking people who were infected. And I think this is probably the best way in the US to understand where populations are going, especially since we're, you know, pretty gung-ho about privacy, I hear.

JULIE HYMAN: That, we are. Dan Howley, thank you very much. I enjoyed that howl. Although, I have to say, Rick, in the studio, I don't think I had ever heard you (LAUGHING) do that to Dan Howley. But if it's a new thing--

RICK NEWMAN: We're all losing it a little, come on.

JULIE HYMAN: Bring it on. We'll take what we can get these days. (LAUGHING) Thank you.