Facebook has all the data, it knows all about you and your friends, including everything you like, your habits, your guilty pleasures, etc. Which is scary for the most part. The fact that a corporate entity may well know you better than your friends and relatives is not exactly reassuring - but Facebook's data can come in handy for various research purposes.
This week, Facebook has published a new, AI-powered forecast map which predicts the spread of COVID-19 across the US, at the county level.
As you can see, the map provides an overview of where Facebook's AI systems predict COVID cases to rise, which could help health authorities and others better anticipate demand.
As explained by Facebook:
"COVID-19 has advanced rapidly and unpredictably, stifling reopening plans in some states and introducing new hotspots in others. This potential for resurgence underscores the need for better understanding of the disease’s progression geographically."
The forecasts, Facebook says, have been developed using public, non-Facebook data - so actually, it's not a reflection of the concerning amount of insight Facebook has on you. But then again, some elements do relate to Facebook's network insights.
Facebook has previously published data on population movement trends around the Australian bushfires to assist with resource planning, and last year, Facebook shared a report which looked at the local connectedness of various US communities based on location. Both of these datasets, you would assume, would also be beneficial in this respect, and while Facebook is using publicly available data, these elements, which are also publicly available, would help improve such predictions.
The project underlines the value of large-scale data sets, and how Facebook can play a part in assisting in response efforts to such incidents. Facebook has to tread carefully - the last thing it wants is another Cambridge Analytica type situation, which was caused by sharing identifiable user information with academics. But there are ways that Facebook can utilize its data resources for public good.
It just has to avoid freaking people out too much in the process.
You can read more about Facebook's COVID-19 forecast maps here.