UK population mobility analysis support using Facebook Data for Good

Project leads: Andy Tatem

Funding: Office for National Statistics

Start: Jan 2021
Completion: Sep 2022

Some of the biggest effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were seen in rapid changes in the manner, frequency and distance people travelled as they responded to interventions aimed at reducing the spread of the disease. To understand these varying patterns of population movements, new data sources are required.

One useful source of data is application location history. This is data that provides a history of places a person has visited, which is collected once they have authorised location services on a smartphone application, like Facebook. Under their Data for Good program Facebook do not provide raw data directly to governments, but instead work with academic and non-profit organisations like WorldPop, to support government decision-makers. Via the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network Facebook provide aggregated, de-identified and re-scaled application location data sets. In sharing these data Facebook adhere to data use agreements and strict privacy-preserving policies so that no individual or individual business can be identified.

Analysis of these data show broad patterns about where people are moving from and where they are moving to. With the introduction of the tier system, national lockdowns and other policies, analysis of these data is able to demonstrate patterns of reduced movement in a more timely way than other data sources.

In this project we provided support to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) Data Science Campus. As ONS is a UK government department our team played a vital role in providing dedicated support in accessing these data. We processed and analysed the Data for Good datasets on population density changes, mobility flows and co-location indices, responded to requests from ONS and provided tailored insights and data that met Facebook’s data sharing requirements.

WorldPop provided:

  • Regularly updated datasets on relative population density changes from Facebook data across the UK
  • Regularly updated datasets on relative population mobility changes from Facebook data across the UK
  • Additional mobility-related datasets and analyses from Facebook data
  • Methods and data documentation for datasets shared
  • Input to ONS reports and data releases