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Google using location data to show which states are taking social distancing seriously

The search giant says it will use anonymous location data collected from people's phones to show movement trends related to coronavirus guidelines.

Google has launched a new website that uses anonymous location data to show which areas are taking social distancing seriously and which ones are not. 

The COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports site is meant to show responses over time to social distancing guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each report will show population trends across six different categories: Retail and recreation, grocery and pharmacy, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential. 

In a blog post, Google explained that it's able to calculate the changes in visits and length of stay at different places using the same kind of data it uses to show popular times for places in Google Maps. 

The company said the reports are created with aggregated, anonymous data from users who have turned on the location history setting, which "is turned off by default." Officials said in a blog post that it won't be disclosing an individual's location, contacts or movement. 

Google said it plans to show the trends over several weeks, while the data available on the site will be from 48 to 72 hours prior. As of Friday, reports are available for 131 countries and all 50 states. 

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Ultimately, Google said it hopes the reports will help support officials' decisions about managing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Credit: AP
A person jogs past a sign encouraging social distancing Thursday, April 2, 2020, in St. Louis.

Google noted that the reports will only be available for a limited time, for however long as public health officials find them useful in stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.