Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers and New Yorkers Fleeing Coronavirus Went to Next

Popular
Spring Break vs. COVID19: The Real Impact of Ignoring Social Distancing

By Eoin Higgins

A viral video showing cell phone data collected by location accuracy company X-Mode from spring break partiers potentially spreading the coronavirus around the U.S. has brought up questions of digital privacy even as it shows convincingly the importance of staying home to defeat the disease.


"First thing you should note is the importance of social distancing," tweeted Daily Dot journalist Mikael Thalen of the video. "The second is how much data your phone gives off."

The data in the video, which X-Mode fed into mapping platform Tectonix, shows people from one Florida beach over spring break departing the Sunshine State and spreading around the country, mostly to the Northeast.

The company also tracked people fleeing the outbreak from New York City.

"It's a glimpse into the power and scope of mobile tracking data, which the tech companies claim is anonymized to not reveal information about the owner of the device," wrote Newsweek's Jason Murdock.

According to Thalen's report on the data for the Daily Dot:

X-Mode states that the data used is "anonymized," meaning a cellphone's location is not linked to its user's identity. Tectonix took that raw data and honed in specifically on devices moving between 3 and 10 miles per hour in an attempt to pinpoint cellphone owners believed to be walking or traveling with bikes or scooters.

"I don't know what scares me more," tweeted CBC News reporter Roberto Rocha, "the spread of Florida beach revelers or that this data is being tracked."

In a report Wednesday on the outbreak, the Guardian revealed that the cell phone industry's international regulatory body the GSMMA is considering developing a global data-sharing system to track people from their devices in order to help contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Such a move would come with myriad privacy and security concerns and would be sure to generate intense backlash from civil liberty advocates around the world.

As the Guardian reported:

Until now the use of mobile phone tracking in the fight against Covid-19 has been restricted to national governments, which are either monitoring data within their borders or in discussions with mobile operators and technology companies about doing so.

They include the US, India, Iran, Poland, Singapore, Israel, and South Korea. The British government is engaged in talks with BT, the owner of the UK mobile operator EE, about using phone location and usage data to determine the efficacy of isolation orders.

The concept of an international mobile tracing scheme would go further, enabling authorities to monitor movements and potentially track the spread of the disease across borders.

The risks of letting state and corporate powers overrun civil liberties is real in a moment of crisis, warned the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Cindy Cohn on Monday.

"We already see calls from companies seeking to cash in on this crisis for unchecked face surveillance, social media monitoring, and other efforts far beyond what medicine or epidemiology require," said Cohn.

While there is a need to keep safe and healthy for the good of the community, Cohn continued, that should not come at the expense of vigilance over freedom and civil rights.

"Right now, when real science is so often under attack, those of us who care about truth, health, and each other need to take seriously the things that science and medicine are telling us about how to keep this virus from spreading," wrote Cohn. "And we also need to be vigilant so that we come out the other side of this crisis with a society we want to live in and hand down to our kids. We can — and must — do both."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A replica of a titanosaur. AIZAR RALDES / AFP via Getty Images

New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule eliminated a provision mandating that utilities move away from coal. VisionsofAmerica /Joe Sohm / Getty Images

A federal court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration's rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A wild mink in Utah was the first wild animal in the U.S. found with COVID-19. Peter Trimming via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.

Read More Show Less
A mass methane release could begin an irreversible path to full land-ice melt. NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty Images

By Peter Giger

The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.

Read More Show Less
Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.

Read More Show Less