Facebook announced it would start to ask some of its U.S.-based users about their health in an effort to give researchers more information about self-reported COVID-19 patients.
In a blog post, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company said it will put a link at the top of some users’ News Feeds to point them to the survey that could help pinpoint where health care resources are best needed.
“The survey — run by Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center — will be used to generate new insights on how to respond to the crisis, including heat maps of self-reported symptoms,” Facebook wrote in the blog post. “This information can help health systems plan where resources are needed and potentially when, where and how to reopen parts of society. If the results are helpful, we’ll make similar surveys available in other parts of the world.”
There will be three new tools as part of the project: a co-location map that could help predict where COVID-19 cases may appear next; movement range tools that show where people are staying near home or traveling around town; and a “social connectedness index,” which aims to show friendships across states and countries, to help epidemiologists better predict where the disease will spread and what areas might need support.
The data, which is part of Facebook’s Data for Good project, would be aggregated.
“Individual survey responses with Facebook, and Facebook won’t share information about who you are with the researchers,” Facebook added in the post.
To protect privacy, a random ID number will be sent to Carnegie Mellon that will get sent back to Facebook once a user completes the survey. A single data point, known as a “weight value,” will help to correct for sample bias.
“COVID-19 has inherent delays that challenge the pace at which we seek to evaluate policy impact towards a measured response,” Dr. Daniel Klein of the Institute for Disease Modeling said in the post. “Mobility data from Facebook’s Data for Good program provides a near real-time view of important correlates of disease transmission. This data, in combination with other sources, allows us to make better models to inform public health decisions.”
Facebook added that if the results are helpful to researchers, similar surveys would come for other parts of the globe.
The move is the latest from the tech giant in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In March, Facebook provided information for its more than 2 billion users on how to spot fake news in an effort to stop the spread of misinformation.
Separately in March, Facebook said it would provide $100 million in grants to aid small businesses during the pandemic.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.36 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 368,000 of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country.