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Spread Of Epidemics Hoped To Be Controlled In Ghana By Tracking Movement Of Vodafone Users

Spread Of Epidemics Hoped To Be Controlled In Ghana By Tracking Movement Of Vodafone Users
The government in Ghana is attempting to control the spread of epidemics like that of the Ebola virus by the process of tracking the movements of people. For this purpose, it has teamed up with Vodafone which will share data about the movements of its customers in the country.
There are about 8.7 million customers of Vodafone in Ghana and the company has pledged to share movement information of the customers in real time with government, said the charitable arm of the mobile phone company. this sharing could prove to be valuable for the government in a situation of a spread of an epidemic as the government can keep track of population movements.  
A “heat map” of where the users are and where they are heading and how far they are moving can be obtained from analysis of the level of activity at each mobile phone mast.
However, the information would be “aggregated and anonymised” which would not allow for identification of individual users, the company has said. Such information can also be put to use for sectors such as transportation and agriculture for taking important decisions.
During an epidemic, as the one that that happened in 2014 with the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, government and other agencies can get access to such data and their analysis which can be life-saving, said the Vodafone Foundation.
“As we can now measure human mobility it is possible to model how infections spread,” said Joakim Reiter, the Vodafone external affairs director. “Mobile technology can enable access to ... data about human behaviour and the ability to examine the mobility of an entire population. This has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
For Vodafone, this is a first of a kind of endevour. The plan is to initially provide all data and information to the Ghana statistical service. The data then would be shared with the relevant government departments by the statistical service so that they are able to “allocate resources more efficiently and identify the areas at increased risk of new outbreaks”.
Extra care has to be taken by Vodafone to ensure that people’s rights are not breached by it even while it might appear that individuals would be protected from identification by the use of using large-scale, anonymised information, warned a data privacy expert.
“In order to create big data, you have to gather little data – information about specific individuals – in this case tracking people’s movements,” said Robert Lands, a partner at the law firm Howard Kennedy. “That’s where data protection law comes in, as you would have to make sure that the tracking is compliant.”
“The Vodafone Foundation programme will work in line with Vodafone’s global privacy principles, GSMA data protection guidelines and Ghanaian data protection regulations,” said a spokeswoman for Vodafone

Christopher J. Mitchell

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