Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers and New Yorkers Fleeing Coronavirus Went to Next
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.
This shows the location data of phones that were on a Florida beach during Spring Break. It then shows where those… https://t.co/Xy5evwx3kH— Mikael Thalen (@Mikael Thalen)1585256406.0
The company also tracked people fleeing the outbreak from New York City.
Continuing our look at #SocialDistancing impact on #COVID19 ... This week @NYGovCuomo took decisive action calling… https://t.co/C08mySLMNw— Tectonix (@Tectonix)1585190932.0
"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.
«Any move to create such a global tracking system would represent a major escalation in efforts to use mobile phone… https://t.co/ufHCl5Tezl— Sylke Gruhnwald (@Sylke Gruhnwald)1585204756.0
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.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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