Alabama cellphone location data shows residents getting on board with social distancing

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2020

One company says some Alabamians are getting the message to stay home and practice social distancing. In fact, Alabama gets a ‘B’ grade for doing its part to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

On Tuesday, a company called Unacast that collects and analyzes phone GPS location data launched a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that grades, county by county, which residents are changing behavior at the urging of health officials. It uses the reduction in the total distance we travel as a rough index for whether we’re staying put at home.

If you have a smartphone, you’re probably contributing to a massive tracking system that Unacast and other companies use to collect data about what Americans are doing with their cellphones. The company gets location data comes from the apps that Americans have installed on their phones. The information is usually used for marketing and advertising.

Unacast launched its website as a way to track public health during the current coronavirus pandemic. The data reveals how Americans have and haven’t been practicing social distancing.

The website grades every county in the United States using the reduction in the total distance Americans have traveled in the last days to determine which phone users are staying put at home.

The state of Alabama, according to Unacast’s data, reduced travel by 37% – giving the state a ‘B’ grade.

States like Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont received ‘As’ for reducing their travel by more than 40%. Wyoming received an ‘F’ because phone users in that state had actually increased their travel by 6% when comparing data over a one-month period.

The top five counties in Alabama — which were all given an ‘A’ grade for practicing social distancing, according to the data are:

  • Marengo
  • Shelby
  • Madison
  • Lee
  • Marion

The bottom five counties in Alabama — which all received ‘F’ grade — are:

  • Butler
  • Lowndes
  • Conecuh
  • Greene
  • Macon

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