Skip to main content

Measuring Movement and Social Contact with Smartphone Data: A Real-Time Application to COVID-19

Institute Working Paper 35 | Published July 9, 2020

Download PDF

Authors

Victor Couture University of British Columbia

Allison Green Princeton University

Jessie Handbury University of Pennsylvania and NBER

Measuring Movement and Social Contact with Smartphone Data: A Real-Time Application to COVID-19

Abstract

Tracking human activity in real time and at fine spatial scale is particularly valuable during episodes such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper, we discuss the suitability of smartphone data for quantifying movement and social contact. We show that these data cover broad sections of the US population and exhibit movement patterns similar to conventional survey data. We develop and make publicly available a location exposure index that summarizes county-to-county movements and a device exposure index that quantifies social contact within venues. We use these indices to document how pandemic-induced reductions in activity vary across people and places.