It's not often that a major tech company, and especially one as hyper-focused on privacy and security as Apple, gives you a peek into how you and your neighbors are moving. But in a world where Covid-19 dictates social distancing, that's precisely what Apple is doing.
On Tuesday the company announced a new tool that helps you visualize how -- and when -- people are moving in major cities and countries around the world. The data shows what movement was like dating back to January, and how it's changed since the coronavirus started spreading around the world.
In the U.S., for instance, driving is down 63 percent compared to regular traffic. Walking traffic is down 66 percent, and public transit travel has declined by 81 percent, according to Apple data.
More locally, in New York City, driving traffic is down 69 percent and walking traffic has fallen by 80 percent. Transit traffic has dropped by 89 percent.
Even in Sweden, where the government hasn't enacted the strict social-distancing rules most other countries have, movement has declined. Driving, for instance, is down 15 percent. Walking and transit activity has fallen 44 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
Although you can find many major metro areas and countries, Apple's data isn't comprehensive. There are plenty of areas that aren't featured in the company's visualizing tool.
Apple said it built the tool to help local government and health authorities track movement in areas, and pair that with other data points that could ultimately provide some context for social distancing. Exactly how it may be used is unknown. In fact, since the data set was only taken from requests made in 63 countries and a rather limited supply of major cities inside Apple Maps, its value to researchers may be limited.
A more likely scenario is one in which researchers combine Apple's data with that from Google. Earlier this month, Google released a similar mobility-tracking tool that analyzes mobility trends in grocery stores, retail outlets, and other locations.
Either way, their efforts are part of a broader push by big tech to make an impact on the fight against Covid-19. But if they're going to have a bigger impact, they'll need more useful data.