Ministers are in talks with phone operators over the potential use of mobile data to help monitor how the public respond to social distancing advice to combat coronavirus.

BT, which owns EE, said it was in talks with the Government over how it could aid in the fight against the pandemic.

And O2 confirmed it was asked to support those mapping and seeking to control the spread of the virus, but said individuals would not be identified. A spokeswoman told the Standard discussions over the plan were at an early stage.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK could “turn the tide” in the fight against the disease within 12 weeks, but only if the public heeded the social distancing advice.

Boris Johnson: Coronavirus tide can be turned in next 12 weeks

Otherwise, he has not ruled out bringing in more draconian measures that impinge on civil liberties in order to save lives.

The Government’s response to the outbreak could be shaped by the use of anonymised data and creating movement maps, the Guardian reported.

O2 stressed it would not share data that would be able to identify or map individuals, only very broad mass movements.

A spokeswoman said: ”Besides zero rating access to NHS and other support websites, we were asked along with other mobile operators to support those who are working tirelessly to map and control the spread of coronavirus in the UK.”

“‘Using our mobile technology, we have the potential to build models that help to predict broadly how the virus might move. This would in no way be able to identify or map individuals, and operates within strict privacy guidelines.”

A BT spokeswoman said: “We are talking with the Government about a number of areas in which we may be able to assist with the national public health effort.

“In relation to the use of mobile data, we are still actively exploring possibilities. As always, we are mindful of the privacy of our customers, while making sure we do everything that might help the medical authorities in the fight against coronavirus.”

Downing Street declined to comment when asked by the Standard about the plans.

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