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How some companies use your phone to track social distancing

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COVID-19 Cell Phone Web Pic

DEKALB, Ill. (WREX) — You may have heard of a social distancing grade the county, state and stateline have been given when it comes to social distancing. That grade is based on CDC data, Johns Hopkins data and tracking data from your cell phone.

The data, released by Unacast, gave counties in our area anywhere from a B- to a D- when it comes to social distancing. The state received a B- grade.

The cell phone tracking is called "demographic modeling" and you've likely already given a lot of different apps and companies permission to track you. Demographic modeling does not give out any personal information, other than your location.

When an app is downloaded, you agree to terms of service. In those terms is usually permission to track location. It is often use to give you the weather where you are, or post a geo-location when you want it on your photos or social media.

NIU Communications Professor, Dr. David Gunkel, says demographic modeling does have its limitations when it comes to tracking COVID-19.

"By relative judgement, you can ask yourself, in the state of Illinois are the phones generally staying in place or are they moving around?" He said. "If they're generally staying in place by comparing a map of this week to last week, you can make the general assumption people are staying where they're supposed to stay."

Gunkel says some countries are actually using cell phones to do what is called contract tracing so they can see the people a person infected has been in contact with.

In the U.S., one software developer at Microsoft created an app to use contact tracing. It's called Care19 and it doesn’t ask for names, phone numbers or log-in information. Once the app is downloaded, individuals will be given a random ID number and it will cache the individual’s locations throughout the day. Users are then encouraged to categorize their movement into different groups such as work or grocery, according to the Associated Press.