Google began employing location data to compile reports covering the mobility of specific communities across the world, in a bid to help public health officials tackle the ongoing Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

In a joint blog Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP of engineering and product management at the company’s Geo unit, and chief health officer at Google Health Karen DeSalvo said from today (3 April) the company will issue a series of reports showing movement trends in recreation locations such as parks; retail outlets including grocery stores and pharmacies; transportation networks; workplaces; and homes.

Google noted its reports will use “aggregated, anonymised sets of data” from users who have switched on the location history setting in their Google account.

The internet giant pledged not to disclose any identifiable information about individuals’ location, movement and contacts. Google said it was doing that by using “differential privacy, which adds artificial noise to our datasets”.

It aims to highlight broader tendencies across a span of several weeks, with the most recent information covering a range of 48 hours to 72 hours. Google will, however, only present details of changes to the percentage of visits to specific locations, rather than a total number.

Google is initially covering 131 countries and regions, but plans to add more in the coming weeks.

Fitzpatrick and DeSalvo explained the company’s move followed feedback from public health officials that the data “could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat Covid-19”.

Google said it was also working with epidemiologists on an anonymised dataset designed to predict the spread of the pandemic.