Before You Use Our GPS Travel Data To Formulate Coronavirus Policy, Make Sure You Understand the Data


PREMO Member
It started in mid-March, when Unacast, a company that tracks and analyzes location data from people's phones, put together what a "Social Distancing Scoreboard" to attempt to calculate how successfully the citizens of each state are changing their travel habits.

Calling it a "Social Distancing Scoreboard" is itself a mistake. Social distancing is supposed to refer to the amount of physical space between individuals. But this scoreboard initially graded states on the basis of the distance people were traveling. Ostensibly this was an attempt to see if people were making fewer non-essential trips. That may be valuable data, but it's not what "social distancing" means.

It got worse when they started grading states. The only state to get an F was (and still is) Wyoming, which currently has 153 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. New York state, now the world's epicenter in coronavirus infections and deaths, gets an A-. (The death toll in New York City alone has topped 1,500.) The reason for the difference should be obvious. Wyoming is a profoundly rural state. Of course its residents won't reduce their travel distances as much as someone in a big city. Sweetwater County, the physically largest county in Wyoming, has a population density of 4.2 people per square mile. New York City has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile.