Vienna/London: Officials in Austria and Italy are starting to use location data transmitted by mobile phones to determine the effectiveness of their coronavirus lockdowns.
Telekom Austria AG, the country’s biggest telecom network operator, is providing “anonymized data” to relevant authorities, according to a statement late Tuesday. The tracking technology, developed by Invenium Data Insights GmbH in Austria’s southern city of Graz, was previously used to analyze travel patterns.
Vodafone Group Plc said in a statement it is providing Italian officials with anonymized customer data to track and analyze population movements in the hard-hit Lombardy region, where people are in lockdown.
The countries are the latest on a growing list of nations using mobile phones to help contain the pandemic. Companies in China, Israel and Vietnam are also using data and applications to keep track of the disease. In the U.S., Alphabet Inc.’s Google is developing a platform that includes user location.
Operators have to tread carefully as European countries have some of the world’s strictest rules around the use and sharing of mobile phone location data. The data yielded by these initiatives won’t be as granular as that provided by Israel’s NSO Group Ltd.. The company, known for its spyware, is working with about a dozen countries to test its technology to track the mobile phones of infected people. That information can then be matched with location data of other citizens to determine the potential for contamination.
The technology being used in Austria is normally used to track where tourists go after they visit an important destination, according to the Telekom Austria statement. It is “offered by a large number of companies across Europe and has been tested for years.”
Invenium estimates that movement in Austria has fallen by half since lockdown measures took effect this week, co-founder Michael Cik told state broadcaster ORF. The company didn’t respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.
Vodafone is also offering governments the ability to send texts to people living in areas that have been hit by the virus. The company operates in 24 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. – Bloomberg
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