George Breckenridge and Stuart Ross – Project I

Analysing COVID-19 Mobility Responses through Passively Collected App Data

‘Lockdown’ policies restricting mobility have caused mass disruption to the normal operation of daily activity in cities across the COVID-19 pandemic. They mark the first time in recent memory that national and global populations have been caused to simultaneously re-evaluate transport choices, whilst also causing wholesale changes in the location and spatial footprint of most social and economic activity. The understanding of such dislocated geographies will underpin urban and transport planning policies for maintaining low virus transmission risk and for revitalising the UK economy, far into 2021 and beyond. 

The emergence of passively collected anonymous mobility datasets, produced though mobile phone apps in cases where user permission is granted, makes it possible to explore these transportation responses at fine spatial and temporal scales – before, during and after the COVID-19 lockdown(s). The aggregation of these contemporary UK patterns – which will be required to maintain user anonymity – allows for the exploration of hundreds of thousands of users whilst simultaneously protecting privacy. Indeed, the utility of privacy-enhanced outputs for policy will be a lead project focus. Phone data will be provided by partner Cuebiq through their secure online platform, which enables only the export of aggregated outputs to suitable spatial units. 

In order to investigate such unprecedented changes in mobility using Cuebiq’s data, we expect to employ a variety of machine learning (ML) methods to extract features. A journal paper documenting these patterns as the COVID-19 crisis evolves is the anticipated output for this CDRC-funded project.