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Unlocking Technology and Data Science to Combat COVID-19 and Other Health Pandemics

expert weighs in on how technology and AI is used during covid-19
Professor Anindya Ghose

Professor Anindya Ghose, Heinz Riehl Chair Professor of Business and Director of the Masters of Business Analytics Program at NYU’s Stern School of Business, joined NetElixir Founder and CEO Udayan Bose for our first installation of our Reimagine Tomorrow webinar expert series. Based on his extensive and global experience in researching the mobile economy and AI advancements, Ghose spoke on how technology has been used for predictive analytics in monitoring Covid-19, privacy considerations during global crises, and how location data has been used to analyze the extent of American social distancing.

As a digital marketing agency, NetElixir focuses on helping companies find, acquire, and engage their high value customers. As the coronavirus accelerates the shift toward a digital landscape, shoppers are turning more toward ecommerce. An ecommerce understanding is important in navigating this digital landscape. However, as the coronavirus is an unprecedented global threat, we need more than just digital knowledge and real-time shopper behavior insights to overcome this. 

We need knowledge that inspires us to look toward and plan for the future. We need thought leadership experience that sparks fresh ideas, encourages a broader world view, and shares dollops of genius to help us connect the dots and move forward, relentlessly.

NetElixir’s Reimagine Tomorrow webinar series aims to get us thinking about tomorrow through innovative thought leaders sharing their experience, insights, and research. Begin to believe that we will get through this and we will have an improved tomorrow when we do.

How Technology and Data Detected COVID-19

Artificial intelligence is used in predictive analytics to chart the spread of the coronavirus. Ghose noted that at the end of December, a Canadian AI startup called BlueDot spotted a pneumonia cluster nine days before WHO was alerted about beginning coronavirus infection. By using statements from public health officials, social media channels, airline data, and more, researchers charted predictive paths of how the virus could spread.

Data scientists have used Google’s DeepMind to analyze the protein structure of COVID-19. 

Baidu, one of the largest AI and internet companies in the world, was able to used infrared and AI-powered facial recognition software to screen people for fever in China. They could screen up to 200 people per minute.

Ghose champions technology for use as consumer empowerment, not just for businesses means to a revenue end. As contact tracing develops, there are apps available that let people check if they have taken the same flight or train as a COVID-19 patient. In Taiwan, the FaceMask App shows where consumers can find masks based on inventory tracking.

Technology offers us deeper insights into the movement and structure of viruses, which will help us to better monitor and fight outbreaks. Sophisticated technology like we currently have access to was not available during previous health crises like SARS or H1N1. While there is still much we don’t know about COVID-19, we have, as a collective, quickly developed new technology to help us understand the situation. Our innovation has only grown during the pandemic, as we unite to alleviate suffering and find solutions.

Measuring Social Distancing and Contract Tracing

Geo-location data from smartphones, CCTV surveillance footage, GPS data from cars, offline credit card transactions, ATM banking records, and more help some countries monitor social distancing compliance.

High fatality rates in the early days of Italy and Spain’s outbreaks are partly attributed to people not complying with social distancing methods. According to Ghose, research has shown that COVID-19 transmission occurs between people who are within 1 meter of each other for 15 minutes or more. The average number of infected droplets people spread increase the more people breathe, cough, and speak. This is why social distancing measures are essential in limiting the spread of the virus and helping to flatten the curve.

Contract tracing is important in tracing incidents and backtracking how infections spread and where they could have originated. It is also useful in predictions. By using travel information, contract tracing can predict the next city vulnerable to a wave of infections.

Insights from Mobile Location Data

Anindya Ghose’s body of work rests heavily in the power of smartphones and the mobile economy. Location tracking unlocks how well people followed social distancing measures. 

Ghose and a team of researchers have looked into the trade-off between privacy and location tracking as mobile phones become more prevalent. During the current crisis, research has found that Americans are willing to sacrifice some privacy for the greater good, such as monitoring the spread of COVID-19. 

However, there was still a small, but meaningful political divide evident in response to privacy concerns. Cities that leaned toward Democratic beliefs were slightly more likely to keep their location on, evidenced in the chart below. The dotted line marks official stay-at-home orders by President Trump on March 13. From there, we see a steep decline in people opting out of turning off location data (meaning they kept their locations open).

measuring social distancing during covid-19
City populations in opting out of sharing location data along political lines by opting out, their location on their mobile phones is off, leaving them untraceable).

Compliance with Social Distancing

How well did Americans comply with states’ initial implementation of social distancing measures?

Mobile phones location data measure if social distancing is working during covid-19
Using location data on mobile phones, researchers can trace how people complied with social distancing measures throughout the month of March.

Those who were compliant with social distancing measures were more likely to share their location data than those who were not actively complying. On average, people were more likely to opt in to continuing location tracking after the crisis became prominent. 

As the days wore on, however, America did unite in trading some privacy measures for the greater good. “Prosocial behavior manifested itself during the crisis,” Ghose says, continuing that people “sacrifice a tad bit of privacy for greater social good.”

Additional Insights

Jerry Wind - Opportunities during Covid-19
Join NetElixir and  Professor Jerry Wind for “Opportunities in Times of Crisis”.

The next expert in our Reimagine Tomorrow webinar series is Professor Jerry Wind at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. On Thursday, June 4 at 2 PM ET, Wind will present Opportunities in Times of Crisis

Our partners at BWG Strategy present Real Time Data on eCommerce Sales and Online Shopper Behavior on Tuesday, May 19 at 11 AM ET. Founder and CEO of NetElixir Udayan Bose will discuss a path to a successful economic recovery and the continued impact of the coronavirus on ecommerce sales, online shopping behavior, and hot products.

Our Covid-19 Updates Webinar series can be viewed in its entirety. Our fifth installment, Road to Recovery – Real Time Data on eCommerce Sales & Online Shopper Behavior, will air live Thursday, May 21 at 2 PM ET.

Looking for additional insights and information for your specific category? Email us at shareinsights@netelixir.com.

Learn More about Ecommerce Updates During COVID-19

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For further reading, you can see our prior retail analytics updates on retail ecommerce and online shopping behavior: