- Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, spring-break partiers flocked to Florida beaches earlier this month.
- Newly released phone location data shows how people congregated at one Florida beach before traveling across much of the US.
- The data shows about 5,000 devices traveling from a single beach in Fort Lauderdale in one week to cities spanning the eastern US, including New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Houston.
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President Trump urged Americans on March 16 to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But the following week photos showed thousands of people crowding Florida beaches at the peak of spring-break season.
Newly published phone location data shows that those gatherings could have an effect far beyond Florida.
Data aggregated by location data firm X-Mode Social shows 5,000 devices gathered at one Fort Lauderdale beach in mid-March. In the week that follows, those devices fan out and travel across much of the Eastern US, possibly reflecting spring breakers traveling home after vacation.
In a video published on Twitter, data-visualization group Tectonix GEO mapped the movement of phones across the country.
—Tectonix GEO (@TectonixGEO) March 25, 2020
Location data companies like X-Mode Social are able to track the precise location of smartphones across the globe using software built into apps that people download. The practice has raised the ire of privacy advocates, but location data firms and their partners insist that people's movements are anonymized and not directly tied to their identities.
"We take every effort to ensure privacy in the data we use," Tectonix GEO tweeted in response to one person's privacy concerns. "All device data is anonymized and we only work with partners who share our commitment to privacy and security above all."
An X-Mode Social spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider that the company complies with digital privacy laws including the recently-enacted CCPA, and that its data "is aggregated at the observation level and is not associated to a device identifier or physical person." That data doesn't include personal information like names, birth dates, gender, or contact information, the spokesperson said.
Footage of spring breakers partying in Florida despite social-distancing guidelines was shared widely earlier this month.
"If I get corona, I get corona," one 22-year-old said in a TV interview while partying on the beach (he later apologized).
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has surged past 2,400 in Florida and 85,000 people nationwide.
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