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Apple Maps data misleading, we're actually walking *more during quarantine

Only direction requests through its map app make up recent data about mobility trends during the pandemic, not simple neighborhood walks.
Credit: Google

Recently Apple released daily data about "mobility trends" across America during the Coronavirus pandemic, and overwhelmingly news headlines started appearing saying things like "Americans staying in our homes!", "Walking, biking, mass transit plummet!".

When you really break down the data, how it was gathered and then think rationally, you realize that's not exactly true.

Credit: Apple

This is Apple's mobility trend graph for large countries that you can find here. It lists walking, driving and transit for Germany, United States, Italy and the United Kingdom. The website says "Reports are published daily and reflect requests for directions in Apple Maps. Privacy is one of our core values, so Maps doesn’t associate your data with your Apple ID, and Apple doesn’t keep a history of where you’ve been."

Do a search for "Portland, Oregon" and the map looks like this: 

Credit: Apple

The purple is transit, Trimet's Max and bus system. It plummeted 74-percent from "baseline" levels (which they don't tell you what those are), in early March when the Stay At Home order was issued and everything closed. Virtually nothing has changed to bring it up again so far.

    The orange line represents walking, and the red represents driving. They both plummeted, but not as much as transit. About 12-15 percent, and around the same time too. But they're both on the increase in late May now that things are opening up and people are feeling comfortable.

    But you might look at this and think, that's weird....I've never walked so much in my life...And I've never seen neighborhood sidewalks and streets more packed with pedestrians and bike riders than during this pandemic.

    How could "walking" drop by double digits? Here's why data like this, really needs context.  

    Apple can only use the data from when you type in directions to their maps and hit "start". In your own neighborhood you're probably not asking for walking directions, versus when you're somewhere unfamiliar.

    Also, there are no tourists here visiting that need walking or driving directions somewhere. So *those kind of walking directions have plummeted, because a heck of a lot more people are simply going out their front door in their neighborhood. In reality, the amount of walking we're all doing has actually risen, we're just not using maps to do it.

To search another city, county or country, visit their Mobility Trends website that updates each day. https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility 

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