Facebook is working with researchers at Carnegie Mellon to survey users about coronavirus symptoms as part of the company’s latest effort to help fight the pandemic. The new surveys, which will begin appearing at the top of users’ News Feeds, will ask Facebook users to voluntarily share information about their health.
Facebook has already pushed informational messages about the coronavirus to the top of users’ News Feeds and Instagram feeds. But the survey, run by Carnegie Mellon researchers, goes a step further, asking users directly about their symptoms.
Results of the survey “will be used to generate new insights on how to respond to the crisis, including heat maps of self-reported symptoms.” Symptom-tracking could be especially helpful to researchers given the lack of readily-available testing in many areas.
Facebook notes it’s taking steps to protect the identities of those who opt to participate in the survey. The company won’t be able to view results of the surveys, and will also hide individual participants’ identities from the researchers.
The survey will only be available in the United States for now, but the company says it may expand to other countries “if the results are helpful.”
The move is part of a larger effort by the company to make more of its data available to researchers studying Covid-19. Facebook is also expanding researchers’ access to its location information — in anonymized form — to better help scientists understand how coronavirus infections may spread in different areas of the country.
By studying trends such as whether or not people are staying at home, as well as data about users’ relationships, health experts may be able to find disease “hotspots” earlier, Facebook says.