European mobile operators share location data for coronavirus fight in Italy, Germany and Austria
- Carriers will share anonymous, aggregated data with health authorities in three European countries to help monitor lockdown compliance
- There will be no individual tracking, which would be illegal in Europe
Mobile carriers are sharing data with the health authorities in Italy, Germany and Austria, helping to fight coronavirus by monitoring whether people are complying with curbs on movement while at the same time respecting Europe’s privacy laws.
In Germany, where schools and restaurants are closing and people have been told to work at home if they can, the data donated by Deutsche Telekom offer insights into whether people are complying, health tsar Lothar Wieler said.
“If people remain as mobile as they were until a week ago, it will be difficult to contain the virus,” Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said on Wednesday.
However, privacy advocates are sceptical about whether sharing customer data is useful or proportionate, even in a time of crisis. One said that, if people know their phones are being tracked, they will just leave them at home.
“I strongly doubt the value of sharing such customer information,” said opposition Greens lawmaker Tabea Roessner.
In Italy, mobile carriers Telecom Italia, Vodafone and WindTre have offered authorities aggregated data to monitor people’s movements.
“Wherever technically possible, and legally permissible, Vodafone will be willing to assist governments in developing insights based on large, anonymised data sets,” CEO Nick Read said.
Austria imposed a regional lockdown after coronavirus spread among ski tourists in Tyrol who, as they headed home, have spread the infection across central and northern Europe.
A1 Telekom Austria Group, the country’s largest mobile phone company, is sharing results from a motion analysis application developed by Invenium, a spin-off from the Graz University of Technology that it has backed.
The tool is compliant with EU privacy rule book the General Data Protection Regulation, which restricts the processing of sensitive personal data without its owner’s explicit consent.
Invenium analyses how flows of people affect traffic congestion or how busy a tourist site will get, said co-founder Michael Cik, but its technology is equally applicable to assessing the effectiveness of measures to reduce social contact or movement that seek to contain an epidemic.
Austrian campaigner Max Schrems, who has fought a series of legal battles over Facebook’s privacy practices, had his doubts.
“As long as the data is properly anonymised this is clearly legal,” he told Reuters. “But to be honest, in Austria you just have to look out of the window to see that people stay home.”
Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.