The American company Facebook announced on Monday April 6 that it was extending its Data for Good program, implemented in 2017, to provide data sets from the social network to research teams around the world. In addition to maps of population movements, already accessible to certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations, data on average lengths of travel will be shared, as well as “social” maps, detailing the links between inhabitants of different regions, which can, Facebook says, help predict where future epidemic peaks may occur.
In France, the data will be shared with the Paris Sciences et Lettres University (PSL), which brings together eleven universities and grandes écoles – Paris-Dauphine, the École nationale supérieure des Mines de Paris, the École normale supérieure (ENS), etc. -, themselves supported by the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (Inria) and the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm).
Facebook says it hopes this data, when analyzed by experts, will inform public health decisions made by governments, particularly regarding the containment or allocation of resources to effectively fight the pandemic. The project will operate in a similar fashion to a previous data sharing during the cholera epidemic that affected Mozambique in 2019.
National survey in the United States
In the United States, this sharing of information will be combined with a survey, highlighted in the users’ news feed, to encourage them to answer questions about the symptoms of the virus. The survey will be administered entirely by Carnegie-Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Facebook “Will not receive or transmit any individual data, except for a statistical identifier”. Again, the information collected by the university is intended to identify more precisely the areas of high contamination, to better anticipate the measures to be taken and the health means to be implemented in the States of the country.
Data provided by Facebook will be updated daily. The social network ensures that the data transmitted is aggregated and fully anonymized.