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Mobile data to track virus' spread has limitations

While federal, state and local governments have started analyzing mobile phone location data to track people’s movements as officials try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, that information offers very limited insights into where the deadly illness might be on the move, according to a paper published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. While the mobile data being used in the United States can help track the public’s movements, the ACLU paper says it is not accurate enough to determine if people are, for example, maintaining social distancing guidelines of six feet. “Numerous data entries over time can support an inference that a phone was near a particular location at a certain point in time,” the report states. “But the data is not precise enough to tell you how close two phones are to each other.” Meanwhile, the use of mobile data creates a host of privacy concerns, especially if the data cannot be anonymized. "The potential for invasions of privacy, abuse, and stigmatization is enormous,” the group said. Benjamin Freed reports.

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Data-analytics companies make the hard sell

As local governments struggle to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the technology startup community is looking to assist with data-driven tools, even if that means pro-bono or at-cost partnerships, executives from several technology companies said Tuesday. Because rapid mass-testing for COVID-19 hasn’t been widely implemented across the U.S., local governments are relying on software and data that they already collect to determine whether public health measures like social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are working. It’s become an opportunity for data-analytics companies to showcase the efficacy of their public health and location-data modeling, said Alex Koeberle, a senior data scientist at Civis Analytics. “There’s a huge trade-off discussion right now on trying to get up to speed on something new that could potentially be really helpful and useful versus sticking with what you got, process-wise,” Koeberle told StateScoop. Ryan Johnston reports.

Working from home? North Carolina's new site maps Wi-Fi, ISP deals

To help North Carolina residents access the internet from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s broadband infrastructure office on Wednesday published a broadband connectivity map. The interactive map, located on the North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s website, allows residents to find internet providers that service their region. The map also directs users to institutions that have free public Wi-Fi. The idea, according to North Carolina CIO Tracy Doaks, is to help connect people who have been forced to work from home or attend school remotely, but who lack adequate broadband. Ryan has more.

Indiana developing new strategic plan for drone program

While some government agencies — like the Elizabeth, New Jersey, police department — are currently using drones to enforce public-health measures, others are making longer-term plans. The Indiana Department of Transportation, for instance, is developing a new strategic plan for its drone program, a company contracted to develop the plan said Tuesday. "People and organizations across the country are attempting to integrate drones into their business processes, due to the many benefits of this technology," said Thomas Mackie, vice president of Woolpert, the architecture, engineering and geospatial services firm that was hired to shape Indiana's drone plan. Colin Wood has details.

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