Apple tracks changes in travel behavior

Apple has launched a tool that reveals changes in the travel behaviour of people who use its Maps app.

The Mobility Trends Report produces three daily percentage figures, showing how many fewer people are driving, walking and using public transport compared with on 13 January, before the coronavirus lockdowns came into effect.

It covers major cities and national figures for 63 countries. Hong Kong is included but not mainland China.

It follows a similar effort by Google.

Google's Covid-19 Community Mobility reports are arguably more detailed - they cover 130 countries and also report on how busy different types of location are - however, the search firm has only provided such data for two dates since its launch on 3 April.

Apple also provides a way to export its records as a spreadsheet, making it easy for researchers and the media to make use of the data within their own models.

The UK cities covered include London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

The iPhone-maker does not believe that sharing the information compromises its users' privacy.

"The information is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions," it blogged.

"Maps does not associate mobility data with a user's Apple ID, and Apple does not keep a history of where a user has been."

Even so, some privacy experts have noted that Google and Apple's initiatives highlight the insights they are able to glean, but do not usually share, from people using their products.

"I wonder will 'mobility data' used and published by telecom networks, Google and now Apple, make any difference to how individuals view these companies and to their trustworthiness?" commented Pat Walshe, a consultant who was previously director of privacy at mobile industry trade body the GSMA.