A map produced using Facebook's data showing movement around London. "These data are useful to public health organizations looking at the spread of communicable diseases, such as the flu," Facebook says.

  • Facebook is trying to use its hoards of data to combat the spread of infectious diseases.
  • It is sharing maps showing human movement and population density with researchers and health organizations trying to tackle epidemics and outbreaks of illness.
  • The maps are drawn from the data Facebook holds on its userbase, as well as commercially available datasets.
  • Facebook has previously produced similar maps to help aid groups respond effectively after natural disasters.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

Facebook is using its hoards of data on two billion-plus users to build maps to help combat the spread of diseases.

On Monday, the Silicon Valley technology giant announced disease prevention maps - a set of maps available to health organisations and NGOs showing information like the movement of people and population density to help them understand people's activity, with the aim of learning how epidemics and outbreaks might appear and evolve, and how best to tackle them.

Some of this data is drawn from Facebook's own proprietary treasure trove of data on its 2.38 billion users; this is the case with its movement maps that show how populations are moving from location to location in a given area, and its network coverage maps that show the extent of cellular coverage in a region. Facebook also uses outside data sources to produce maps, namely a high-resolution population density map that draws from commercially available datasets.

The disease prevention maps are the latest offering from Facebook's Data For Good efforts, which tries to use data to address humanitarian issues. It previously created similar maps to help first responders and aid groups deal with natural disasters like earthquakes and forest fires, and is now expanding to tackle health emergencies.

In an interview, with Business Insider, Facebook's policy lead on Data for Good, Laura McGorman, said that data on human movement can be "a total black box for health organisations ... it's a huge gap we can fill". Groups on the ground already have mechanisms for monitoring actual outbreaks - but Facebook's data can offer new insight into "how human mobility patterns influence the spread of that disease".

Facebook is giving a select group of partners access to the new maps, including Harvard School of Public Health, International Medical Corps, the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, Northeastern University, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum. (Facebook isn't selling access to the data, and the efforts are being run on a non-commercial basis.)

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