COVID-19 is spatial: Ensuring that mobile Big Data is used for social good

Age Poom, Olle Järv, Matthew Zook, Tuuli Toivonen

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

64 Scopus citations


The mobility restrictions related to COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the biggest disruption to individual mobilities in modern times. The crisis is clearly spatial in nature, and examining the geographical aspect is important in understanding the broad implications of the pandemic. The avalanche of mobile Big Data makes it possible to study the spatial effects of the crisis with spatiotemporal detail at the national and global scales. However, the current crisis also highlights serious limitations in the readiness to take the advantage of mobile Big Data for social good, both within and beyond the interests of health sector. We propose two strategical pathways for the future use of mobile Big Data for societal impact assessment, addressing access to both raw mobile Big Data as well as aggregated data products. Both pathways require careful considerations of privacy issues, harmonized and transparent methodologies, and attention to the representativeness, reliability and continuity of data. The goal is to be better prepared to use mobile Big Data in future crises.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBig Data and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: AP was funded by the European Union through the Urban Innovative Action Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone (UIA03-240) and the Interreg Baltic Sea Programme project Mobility and Accessibility in Rural Areas (#R100 MARA). OJ was funded by the Kone Foundation. TT was funded by the University of Helsinki and Osk. Huttunen Foundation (Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall College, Cambridge).

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the Digital Geography Lab members from the University of Helsinki, the members of Mobility Lab and Professor Academician Tiit Tammaru from the University of Tartu, Erki Saluveer from Positium, and the members of CCAMEU Jean Monnet Network for elaborated discussions on the impacts and lessons learned on the use of mobile Big Data during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • COVID-19
  • Mobile Big Data
  • mobile phone data, social media data, privacy
  • mobility
  • social good
  • spatial data infrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'COVID-19 is spatial: Ensuring that mobile Big Data is used for social good'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this