How Wake County is using location data from phones to evaluate stay-at-home, social distancing mandates

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County is relying on cell phone data to see if people are social distancing and following the stay-at-home order.

“We have various metrics that we use including anonymous cell phone data that shows that the overwhelming majority of Wake Couny residents are staying at home,” said Wake County Commissioner Chairman Greg Ford.

Wake County’s Emergency Operation Center is keeping track by monitoring public websites from Google and Unacast. They compile anonymous cell phone data and break it down by each individual state to track where people go, for how long, and with how many people. It gives government valuable insight during the pandemic but also unveils gaps in our privacy.

“They’re [websites] getting access to mobile phone data from a third party that tracks this data,“ said Giovanni Masucci, President and CEO of National Forensics in Raleigh. “You have to assume there is no privacy when you’re using a phone.”

Masucci said people willingly give up their privacy and data when sharing location or downloading an app and agreeing to the terms and conditions. It’s in the fine print most don’t read.

“How important is it for you to have your location on that app such as Facebook? How much information do you want to give up? And most folks we see, are giving up a lot of information because either they don’t care or they don’t know they’re giving it up.”

To prevent data from being shared, Masucci recommended reviewing the privacy settings on a phone, installing antivirus ware, and turning location off when it isn’t needed. Before downloading apps, Masucci suggested looking at what the app has access to and what type of companies it shares information with.

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