Mobile Big Data in the fight against COVID-19

Editorial to Special Collection of Data&Policy by Richard Benjamins, Jeanine Vos, and Stefaan Verhulst: “Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of the world feel like they may slowly be getting back to (a new) normal. Nevertheless, we know that the damage is still unfolding, and that much of the developing world Southeast Asia and Africa in particular — remain in a state of crisis. Given the global nature of this disease and the potential for mutant versions to develop and spread, a crisis anywhere is cause for concern everywhere. The world remains very much in the grip of this public health crisis.

From the beginning, there has been hope that data and technology could offer solutions to help inform governments’ response strategy and decision-making. Many of the expectations have been focused on mobile data analytics, and in particular the possibility of mobile network operators creating mobility insights and decision-making tools generated from anonymized and aggregated telco data. This hoped-for capability results from a growing group of mobile network operators investing in systems and capabilities to develop such decision-support products and services for public and private sector customers. The value of having such tools has been demonstrated in addressing different global challenges, ranging from the possibilities offered by models to better understand the spread of Zika in Brazil to interactive dashboards that aided emergency services during earthquakes and floods in Japan. Yet despite these experiences, many governments across the world still have limited awareness, capabilities, budgets and resources to leverage such tools in their efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 using non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI).

This special collection of papers we launched in Data & Policy examines both the potential of mobile data, as well as the challenges faced in delivering these tools to inform government decision-making. To date, the collection

Consisting of 11 papers from 71 researchers and experts from academia, industry, and government, the articles cover a wide range of geographies, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Ecuador, Estonia, Europe (as a whole), France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Malawi, Nigeria, Nordics, and Spain. Responding to our call for case studies to illustrate the opportunities (and challenges) offered by mobile big data in the fight against COVID-19, the authors of these papers describe a number of examples of how mobile and mobile-related data have been used to address the medical, economic, socio-cultural and political aspects of the pandemic….(More)”.