Facebook launches its coronavirus symptom-tracking survey in the UK

Facebook launches its coronavirus symptom-tracking survey in the UK and unveils its first heatmap showing where clusters of sick people are across the US to help predict where the disease may spread next

  • The survey is run by the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Centre
  • It will appear at the top of users’ News Feeds on the social network
  • Responses are sent to the researchers and are not accessible by Facebook 
  •  It is designed to provide scientists with new insights on how to respond to the crisis
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Facebook is rolling out its coronavirus symptom-tracker survey in the UK and globally, which will appear at the top of users’ News Feeds on the social network.

The optional survey is run by the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Centre, and is designed to provide scientists with new insights on how to respond to the crisis, including heat maps of self-reported symptoms. 

Responses are sent to the researchers and are not accessible by Facebook, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said, in a bid to allay any privacy concerns.

‘Better data can help governments determine where to send resources such as ventilators and personal protective equipment – and eventually which areas are safe to start opening up again,’ Zuckerberg wrote in an essay for the Washington Post.

‘Since experiencing symptoms is a precursor to becoming more seriously ill, this survey can help forecast how many cases hospitals will see in the days ahead and provide an early indicator of where the outbreak is growing and where the curve is being successfully flattened.’

Facebook first launched the survey in the US at the beginning of April and pledged to make it available worldwide if initial results proved helpful.

Beginning Wednesday, users across the globe will see a pop-up at the top of their Facebook profile with a link to the survey, which includes questions about common COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, cough and loss of smell

There, it is receiving approximately one million responses a week, Mr Zuckerberg said, providing the team with real-time estimates of disease activity at the county level for much of the US.

Carnegie Mellon is also building an application programming interface (API) to give researchers everywhere access to the results for analysis.

‘The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good,’ the Facebook boss continued.

‘If we use it responsibly, I’m optimistic that data can help the world respond to this health crisis and get us started on the road to recovery.’ 

Zuckerberg has also unveiled a coronavirus ‘heat map’ of the US, powered by user data, which is aimed at helping track the spread of the disease and plan for society reopening.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday unveiled a coronavirus ‘heat map’ powered by Facebook data which is aimed at helping track the spread of the disease and plan for reopening society. The first map (pictured) is based on more than two million responses to surveys which asked users in the US to self-report symptoms over a period of 10 days in April

The map is based on responses to surveys which ask Facebook and Google users to self-report COVID-19 symptoms. 

The researchers say that the responses, when combined with other figures such as medical claims and medical testing, can provide a more comprehensive view of the coronavirus pandemic than positive tests alone – and at a faster rate. 

Within the next few weeks, the researchers hope to use the data to provide forecasts that will help hospitals, first responders and other health officials anticipate the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admits in their areas. 

The first map released Monday is based on more than two million responses from users across the United States over a trial period of 10 days earlier this month.  

Zuckerberg said that after seeing how accurately the trial data matched known outbreaks in the US, researchers are taking expanding the COVIDcast project worldwide with help from the University of Maryland.  

‘As the world fights COVID-19 and countries develop plans to reopen their societies, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of how the disease is spreading,’ he said.

‘With a community of billions of people globally, Facebook can uniquely help researchers and health authorities get the information they need to respond to the outbreak and start planning for the recovery.’  

Zuckerberg discussed the initial results of the survey in an interview with ABC News, describing how the maps will offer a comprehensive view of potential hotspots, allowing health officials to identify areas that need more supplies while also predicting possible resurgences down the road


Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University are extending their tracking project worldwide this week by placing a pop-up at the top of every user’s profile which prompts them to take a survey about COVID-19 symptoms.  

The survey includes questions about the most common symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath, coughing and loss of smell. 

The data is submitted directly into the CMU system, without being shared with Facebook. 

It is then analyzed and compiled into the heat maps with daily symptom rates by county. 

Researchers said about 150,000 people responded to the survey each day in the initial 10-day phase.  

Zuckerberg discussed the initial results of the surveys in an interview with ABC News on Monday morning.

He said that in just 10 days since the surveys launched, the resulting data has offered a strikingly accurate depiction of US hotspots.  

‘If you look at the maps, there are some things that I think would jump out to you — for example, that ski resorts might have been playing in an early role in the spread of COVID,’ he said. 

‘We do see in the maps that some of the counties around where there are prominent ski resorts have a lifted level of people experiencing symptoms, so there are things like that you can see.’

In the map, which colour codes counties by percentage of people with symptoms, ranging from 0 percent (light pink) to >2.4 percent (dark pink), high symptom rates are seen in Colorado’s Summit County, home to the Breckenridge, and Idaho’s Blaine County, home to Sun Valley.   

Other areas with high rates include Navajo County in Arizona, where the Navajo Nation has seen a large COVID-19 outbreak, and counties surrounding New York City, the epicenter of the US outbreak. 

Addressing concerns that all of the data is based on self-reporting, Zuckerberg said he is confident in the researchers’ abilities to cultivate an accurate data set.  

‘That’s a lot of the work that the health researchers at Carnegie Mellon have been doing to make sure the data that’s coming from the survey is high quality and that it correlates with what hospitals are seeing on the ground,’ he said.  

He also sought to dispel privacy concerns people may have with submitting answers about private health information on social media platform.  

 ‘The individual data and responses actually don’t go to Facebook at all,’ he explained. 

‘Carnegie Mellon produces an aggregate report that doesn’t include anyone’s individual response.’  

‘It’s a really important part of this program that Facebook is helping to distribute the survey, but it’s Carnegie Mellon’s survey,’ he added.

Another benefit of the survey will be increasing transparency about outbreaks reported worldwide amid concerns that officials in some countries may be holding back information about the extent of the pandemic within their borders.  

‘We’re certainly seeing there are some governments that I think might be trying to suppress how bad the disease is in their countries,’ Zuckerberg said. 

‘But I do think it can also help, keep them accountable and honest about what the symptoms are.’ 

Carnegie Mellon researchers said they are receiving about one million responses per week from Facebook users, and have also gotten some 600,000 from Google users. 

‘I’m very happy with both the Facebook and Google survey results,’ said Ryan Tibshirani, co-leader of Carnegie Mellon’s Delphi COVID-19 Response Team. ‘They both have exceeded my expectations.’

The survey results, combined with data from additional sources, provide real-time indications of COVID-19 activity not previously available from any other source, the research team said in a statement.  

‘Using these and other unique data sources, the CMU researchers will monitor changes over time, enabling them to forecast COVID-19 activity several weeks into the future,’ the statement said. 

‘This is work that social networks are well-situated to do,’ Zuckerberg wrote. 

‘By distributing surveys to large numbers of people whose identities we know, we can quickly generate enough signal to correct for biases and ensure sampling is done properly.’ 

All of the information provided in the surveys is kept anonymous and will be made publicly available at CMU’s COVIDcast website, as well as Facebook’s map site. 

Zuckerberg describes his own challenges working from home with two young kids  

Mark Zuckerberg opened up about how the pandemic has affected his own life during his interview with ABC News on Monday.  

‘I’m working from home, which, you know, it’s initially quite challenging to manage as the kids are home from school,’ the Facebook CEO said, referencing his daughters Max, four, and August, two, with wife Priscilla Chan.

‘They’re around all the time now. And, you know, on the one hand, it’s great being able to see them throughout the day. 

‘On the other hand, you know, sometimes I need to go do an interview like the one that we’re doing now and I try to prevent them from running into the audience.’

 ‘I think this is a challenge that anyone is adapting to,’ he added. 

Zuckerberg also spoke about his own experience with the pandemic, revealing that he’s found working from home to be challenging with two young kids around. He and wife Priscilla Chan are pictured with their children

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