Apple on Tuesday said it would release data that could help inform public health authorities on whether people are driving less during lockdown orders to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The data is gathered by counting the number of routing requests from Apple Maps, which is installed on all iPhone models, and comparing it with past usage to detect changes in the volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit around the world, Apple said.
The information is being updated daily and compared with a date in mid-January, before most US lockdown measures were in place, Apple said. More than 90 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home orders and various lockdowns are underway in other countries around the globe.
The data would be aggregated so that the requests from individual users would not be shown, and it does not track individual users or their locations, the company said.
The information, available on a public website, will show changes for major cities and 63 countries or regions, Apple said.
In the San Francisco Bay area, requests for driving directions as of April 12 were down 70 percent versus January 13, and requests for transit directions plunged 84 percent, the data showed. In New York City, driving direction requests were down 69 percent and transit requests were down 89 percent.
Public health officials in California said April 11 they were using data to track the effectiveness of the state’s lockdown order, although they did not say whether they were using Apple data.
Apple does not provide the absolute number of requests or a specific number of people moving, instead expressing the data as a percentage of requests compared with its mid-January baseline.
Apple’s data is more limited than what Google has made available to public health officials.
Google nearly two weeks ago released data on more than 131 countries, comparing trips in recent weeks to recreational venues, train and bus stations, grocery stores and workplaces with a five-week period earlier this year.
For several countries, Google offers county-level data, which is helpful in countries such as the United States where lockdown orders are issued by county officials.
The Apple data, by contrast, shows only data for some cities, regions and countries and does not show results for entire US states, including those without lockdown orders such as North and South Dakota.
The Apple data also does not capture trips where the user has not asked for directions from the Maps.
Apple said it is continuing to work with public health officials to identify what other data types or trends may be helpful.
© Thomson Reuters 2020