Google takes heat about coronavirus data from Democratic senators

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Two prominent Democratic senators called on Google to prioritize privacy in its decision to use anonymized location data to track peoples' movements in an effort to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.

The tech giant's reports use location data from users who have opted in to share such data to chart movement trends over time across 131 countries and regions, examining categories like retail, groceries, transit stations, workplaces and residential.

"An individual’s location data can reveal other sensitive information, such as a place of employment, religious affiliation, or political preferences. Access to this type of information can pose risks to both individuals’ civil liberties and their physical safety," Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote in the letter.


The tech giant stressed in its blog post announcing the report that no personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.

However, the senators gave Google until April 14 to answer a half-dozen questions, including: "Does Google plan to use datasets other than Location History for its Community Mobility Reports? Does Google plan to share with any government entities, researchers, or private sector partners any users’ coronavirus-related personal data or pseudonymous information?"

The senators also asked the tech company to explain: "What guidance has Google provided to public health officials about how to interpret the reports, including how Google accounts for common social patterns and categorizes locations?"

Fox News reached out to Google for comment.

The data released by Google reveals a wide range of behaviors, depending on the state, what rules have been put in place and how much COVID-10 is impacting the population.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide; of those, 402,923 are in the United States.