Last week, as coronavirus marched around the world, a growing number of governments began to explore the use of our cellphone data to monitor the outbreak. Using location data, Israel sent alerts to citizens believed to have been exposed to the virus ordering them to self-quarantine. In England, authorities analyzed anonymized data from telecom provider O2 to determine the extent to which the populace had implemented social distancing. And in the United States, Google discussed sharing location data with health authorities for similar purposes.
In the days since, we’ve learned more about how location data has been deployed in the fight against COVID-19. Perhaps the most dramatic example to date is in Taiwan, where authorities have deployed an “electronic fence” around quarantined households — alerting police if citizens under quarantine leave the home or even turn off their phones.