Phone Location History for COVID-19 Contact Tracing

Contact tracing. This is a very important aspect in our attempt to buy us time as well as save those who are vulnerable to the Coronavirus Disease-2019 or COVID-19. However, most people find it hard to remember details they are not used to remembering, like where they went, who they met, what they did, how they got to their destination, and why.

Recalling these details is only made harder by the fact that patients are already stressed and fearful of COVID-19. The public wants to get tested to be confident they have not acquired this disease, that is the main objective in their mind, the largest sign in front of their eyes, everything else does not matter. Of course there are the medical frontliners who themselves are stressed and fearful as well.

How else can we get the necessary travel and contact information? How can we help jog memories of people? The location history our smartphones are logging without our knowledge.

Maps Location History

Majority of people today carry smartphones with them almost all the time. Unfortunately, or fortunately in this case, majority of people are not aware their smartphones are tracking their location almost all the time. This often forgotten privacy-issue of smartphones can be used in this situation to gather information on a patient's travel history as well as help them recall things.

Here are the steps on where to find the location history in both Android and iOS.

Android: Google Maps

  1. Open the "Google Maps" app.
  2. On the upper-right corner of the map, tap your photo or avatar.
  3. A menu will open, look for and tap "Your Timeline".
  4. Browse to each day and see the travel path a person took and where they possibly stopped, and their possible mode of travel.

iOS: System Settings

  1. Go to "Settings"
  2. Scroll up and tap "Privacy"
  3. Tap "Location Services"
  4. Scroll up and tap "System Services"
  5. Scroll up and tap "Significant Locations"
  6. Enter your phone passcode
  7. The "Significant Locations" area will show up with a list of location History.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it accurate?
It highly depends on the GNSS chip found inside the smartphone. If the GNSS chip is of a high quality and model, the accuracy is much higher. A smartphone can also use the cellphone towers to triangulate its location.
Are the visited places accurate?
Those are smart guesses by the phone's underlying algorithms.
Then what used is it?
It is to help the patient remember where they went. It is also to help the frontliners and the contact tracing teams to see an overview of where the patient was.
Are there privacy issues to consider?
Definitely. As a frontliner and/or contact tracing team member, privacy is still a very important factor to consider. Ask the patient to check their smartphones and guide them to where to find their location history. If they give you permission to hold their phones, make sure they can see what you are doing by facing the phone in a way that they can see the screen too. Do not ask for their phone passwords, PIN, do not open other apps, and return the phone with the app still in the front (do not press the home button).
What if there are no data in their location history?
It's either they knew how to turn it off or they regularly delete it after they reviewed it manually. Sadly, there are very few people who are privacy-oriented and this is the time to turn this into something positive. Of course, there can be other reasons why there is no location history, for example, their phone is old, broken, or they never connected it to the Internet recently. Either way, it means we have to find other ways to jog the memories of the patient and we have to be patient too.

I hope this little piece of privacy-issue majority are not aware of can be used positively today. Be safe and stay healthy!


(Return to the Welfareness COVID-19 Page.)

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