Covid-19: Octopus to provide data to University of Hong Kong researchers on city residents’ movements to check virus spread


  • Technology
  • Friday, 03 Apr 2020

Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of HKU’s faculty of medicine, earlier said transport data would make it easier to track the transmission of the virus. Octopus says the data will be only of aggregate value and will not reveal the identity of any individuals or the usage of any particular card. — SCMP

E-payment service provider Octopus has agreed to provide data to researchers from the University of Hong Kong studying transmission patterns of the coronavirus and the movements of city residents to boost measures to contain the disease.

The company on Thursday said it agreed to provide “aggregate statistical data relating to the usage of Octopus cards” for research projects at the request of HKU’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine.

Separately, the MTR Corporation said it was considering a data request related to train journeys of Hongkongers from HKU’s department of computer science.

“The corporation will be happy to contribute to the collective efforts in combating the pandemic and we hope the data would be of use to the community,” it said.

Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of HKU’s faculty of medicine and a member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s expert panel on the pandemic, said earlier that transport data such as that of the Octopus cards would make it easier to track the transmission of the virus and identify the risk of infection in various districts.

The MTR Corporation also said it was considering a data request from HKU’s department of computer science related to train journeys of Hongkongers. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Hong Kong is battling a second wave of Covid-19 as many infected residents return from overseas. As of Thursday afternoon, the city recorded 802 cases of infection, with four fatalities.

The government last Saturday ordered cinemas, fitness centres and other public venues to shut down for two weeks and banned gatherings of more than four people at restaurants.

On Wednesday, the city administration also closed karaoke lounges, nightclubs and mahjong parlours.

Octopus said that the data to be provided – from January until the government declared the pandemic to be over – would be only of aggregate value and would not lead to ascertaining the identity of any individuals or the usage data of any particular Octopus card.

It said the information would not constitute any “personal data” under the city’s privacy laws.

Octopus Card Limited says the information provided for research purposes will not constitute any ‘personal data’ under the city’s privacy laws. Photo: Winson Wong

“The aggregate data contains no name, no personal identification number, no phone number, no email address, no card identifier and no account number. The information will pertain to the usage of Octopus cards for the period from Jan 1, 2020, until the pandemic is declared over by the Hong Kong government,” it said.

The e-payment firm said the data could help HKU identify the contact patterns and density of city residents in different areas and could play a significant role in combating the pandemic.

It also assured that HKU’s medical faculty had undertaken to use the Octopus data “strictly for the purpose of conducting the said research projects”.

“[It] will not be used, whether in whole or in part, for any other purposes or in any manner whatsoever without the prior written consent of Octopus Card Ltd,” it said. — South China Morning Post

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