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Google at the rescue again to assist the fight against COVID-19: What is the help extended or can be taken from Google

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Cyber Secure India
Indian government officially launches its coronavirus tracking app, Google will also help in its contribution for the fight against COVID-19 Pandemic.

If we can recall the 2013 Uttarakhand Floods in India, which had devastated the region, with hundreds inhabitants and tourists stuck between land-slides and cloud-busts, it was during this time that administration and rescue workers finding it difficult to locate the victims and their numbers among the hills. The administration and rescue workers were at a disadvantage for the obvious in the absence of data, and this trouble had augmented, due to the prevailing weather condition of that time, as even communication lines and air effort were not forthcoming. Satellite imagery was also not forthcoming as the overcast and available resolution, prohibited satellite images to provide the real-time information.  It was during this troubled-times that, Search Engine Giant Google had come to the rescue. Google, which is also the service provider for all Android Phones in India, provided the essential support, even before the Government Machinery was mobilised. Google had started an online resource facility to assist the administration with information about people affected. The Search Engine Giant, was holding information of the number of Android Users in the region, the last location of the mobile and also the registration details of the Mobile(as all these mobiles are linked to an email  ID).

In the Operations related to Uttarakhand Floods, One was able to get details of those rescued, cleared rescue zones and people stranded. This was in addition to the details of mobile access locations and user details. Google had also started a unique facility—“person finder”– to get or give details of a stranded person. Users and Authorised persons could request status via SMS by sending an SMS to 9 77 33 00 000 (which was the number synchronised between the Government of India and Google Inc). It has been reported that over 20,000 victims were mapped and rescued during the operation.

The ‘Google crisis response’ utility of the search engine via the link ‘resources’ and was also used to provide  up-to-date information on rescue and relief operations including details of state-wise control rooms, shelters and medical centers among others, to its users. This Google supplied data was also used by the rescue workers to reach the affected people cut-off from the main lines of communication. This data so stored by Google is bound by ‘Privacy’ and is factually ‘Data for Anonymity’.

It has always always speculated, that Google was always snooping into the users of Android, or on those who were using any app, that was downloaded or subscribers like Google Map, etc. all these apps and those with any GPRS related utility on the mobile phone, did communicate to the tower. This Ping or Shake-hand communication was providing all the relevant credentials or profile of users to the tower (this is also possible even if the Mobile after initial Hand-Shake was disabled with the data, as the tower Wi-Fi is still in communication with the Phone).

Cellphone tracking could help stem the spread of coronavirus

There are large number of information that is significant for the facilitation of a holistic fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. Countries affected by this pandemic, have the choice to obtain data of relevance from the IT Giants like Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.  The U.S. government is currently in discussions with Facebook, Google and other tech companies about the possibility of using location and movement data from Americans’ smartphones to combat coronavirus. The US though bound by Privacy laws is reported to have taken/taking help of these companies to decipher where the next flood of cases will be and ultimately where to allocate additional health resources. This is not to be viewed as a matter of “Privacy”, but an enabler or a force-multiplier to combat the pandemic that has hit over 170 countries of the world.

A large number of governments among the Asia countries have tried that approach maintain the privacy and also facilitate the data for a strategic approach. China, for example, has reportedly relied on mass surveillance of phones to classify individuals by their health status and restrict their movements (Click Here to read more on this…..).  Even European countries  are also considering less invasive ways to collect and share data about infections, and some are already developing and testing coronavirus-specific phone apps. Government of India, has also officially launched the a coronavirus tracker app based on mobile location. with the name of Aarogya Setu (which translates from Sanskrit to ‘A bridge of health’). Governments, meanwhile, are scrambling to figure out how these potential pandemic-fighting tools could work within data privacy laws and without losing the support of an already wary public.

(IOS: https://apps.apple.com/in/app/aarogyasetu/id1505825357
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nic.goi.aarogyasetu&hl=en_GB)

What Google Can Offer

Google does track location data, browsing history and also the app utilization data, Android phones also be pushing other mobile logs that are captured on the device. The data collected by Google trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places, including retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential. This data can also be useful to the location or person from whom the infection COVID-19 Positive patient. The data can also help in projecting the next hotspot of the pandemic. The Data can also be plotted to make available resources and medical staff and for logistic management, while Governments and Stakeholders manage the present outbreak.

Google is said to be now tracking people’s movements in their communities in view of the extensive monitoring those countries have indented for the same. Google is has reported that it will be releasing the anonymized location data to help health officials with coronavirus containment, in the US. Google has already released preliminary reports showing movements within communities across the world, this data is being used by the authorized agencies to combat the pandemic in these 131 odd countries. These reports, called the COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, will contain trends of movement in terms of visiting places such as groceries, pharmacies, and workplaces. Google has also said that this data will entail details of the Android Users Data or Google Map Users Data (who have turned on their location history in Google Maps) from the past several weeks up to until the last 48 to 72 hours. All this and more is feasible from technology companies including Facebook, Twitter, or even those regional ISPs or Mobile Phone Service providers.


The world is witnessing an era of catastrophe due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Though we as a world have reached the peak of intense criticism of these the technology companies that infringe our Privacy… but at some point we need to rely on them.  If people are scared because of past overreaches, this is an opportunity to rebuild trust. By virtue of their offer of technology and features to the subscribers, these companies have the ability to come up with creative solutions and protect data. This then should be used to find a way to serve the public interest without sharing in a way that upsets people.

The Government of India, also has this plethora of service providers who can provide worth-while data for necessary analysis and drawing-up of strategy to fight the spread and containment of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This announcement by Google has comes at a time when governments across the world are trying to leverage location data to notify people about close contact with COVID-19 positive patients, among other related services. On 04 April 2020, India officially released its coronavirus tracker that leverages the phone’s GPS and Bluetooth data. Now is the time for India to take help of Google, Facebook, and others to fight the War.

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