At pains to point out that Google “adheres to stringent privacy protocols and policies” on 3 April 2020 the tech giant started publishing its mobility data, based on anonymised aggregated feeds via Google Maps to “to chart movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential”.2
For example, one can download a particular country and then view whether there have been more or fewer people across the listed place categories since the beginning of the reporting. These capture mobility trends for places such as:
- Local parks, national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens;
- Public transport hubs such as subway, bus, and train stations;
- Restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theatres;
- Places of residence; and
It is then possible to compare countries across each of these places. Below are five examples of how far from the baseline position those countries are for Retail and Recreation:
- Germany: -55%
- Sweden: -21%
- United States: -22%
- Italy: -37%
- South Korea: -5%
In the flow article, Covid-19: the economy after Wuhan, we noted how the South Korean government had promptly implemented containment measures to reduce transmission, and thus largely avoided restricting the movement of people. This policy is showing up in the Google data, with the Retail and Recreation data only 5% away from baseline.
As the Federal Reserve of Dallas (Dallas Fed) explains,3 a key driver of the economic slowdown was an increase in social distance—literally, the physical distance between people—in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. “ It highlights how “many businesses sharply curtailed, or even ceased, operations due to government-mandated closures, concern for the health of workers or a lack of business, as consumers avoided social interaction”. For this reason the regional central bank has developed its Dallas Fed Social Distancing Index, based on geolocation data collected from a large sample of mobile devices.
Deutsche Bank analysts combined Apple data, which “takes the average of driving, walking and transit inquiries again relative to a pre-virus baseline” with the Google data and the Dallas Fed data on social distancing (the point being that decreased social distancing is associated with greater mobility).
Figure 3: Various measures of mobility/social distancing show that economy is very gradually reopening