The City of Toronto is obtaining cellphone data from wireless carriers to help it identify where people have assembled in groups, part of its attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Mayor John Tory said on Monday. But city staff said Tuesday morning the city doesn’t plan to collect such data.
“We had … the cellphone companies give us all the data on the pinging off their network on the weekend so we could see, ‘Where were people still congregating?’” Tory said during an online video-conferencing event Monday evening hosted by TechTO, a local meetup organization. “Because the biggest enemy of fighting this thing is people congregating close together.”
Tory said the data will be used to generate a heat map. He did not name the companies that had provided the city with data.
Other governments are using or seeking location data to inform measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s deputy medical officer of health, said Monday the city was considering using “aggregated data, potentially from electronic sources” to see where residents were congregating, citing mobile devices as one option. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized internal intelligence agency Shin Bet to use geolocation data it already collects from cellphone companies to identify and contact people who have had close contact with infected individuals.