In an effort to aid public health officials with contact tracing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber is supplying quick access to data on drivers and riders presumed to have come in contact with someone infected with the virus.
According to Reuters, the service is being offered free of charge. Government health officials in all countries where Uber operates can access data about who used Uber’s services and when. The information gives health agencies the ability to urge infected users into quarantine.
Information on Uber drivers and passengers can be accessed within a few hours of use. While Uber has been providing this data for some months, it has not been put to use in the majority of U.S. virus hotspots.
This is not the first time Uber has provided data to U.S. law enforcement officials. The company has a history of assisting officials in emergencies and criminal investigations. It first began its focus on health-related issues in 2019, after several health departments requested data during a resurgence of U.S. measles cases.
According to Mieka Smart, an epidemiology professor at Michigan State University and a member of the COVID-19 contact tracing workgroup in Flint, “This data could be potentially life-saving in cities where many people use those services.”
So far, Uber has received a total of 560 coronavirus-related requests from public health departments in 29 countries. The majority of those requests were processed by the company within two hours. Of those total requests, 158 were filed by health authorities in nearly 40 locations around the United States.
U.S. contact tracing efforts have varied from region to region. In some areas, the effort is coordinated at the state level. In other places, cities and counties are in charge of contact tracing. In regard to how Uber’s data has been utilized so far, Massachusetts, for example, has gathered trip details if an infected person tells investigators they have taken a ride-hailing trip. That information is transferred to the state’s health department, which reaches out to Uber to request data.
Lyft is also providing contact tracing data to U.S. and Canadian health officials through its Law Enforcement Request system.
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