In Loco, a Brazilian startup specialized in location, made its technology available to public agencies and authorities in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. With a database that covers more than 60 million mobile devices in all regions of Brazil and an accuracy six times higher than that of GPS, the company created the Social Isolation Index. Through it, In Loco estimates that, on Monday, 57% of the Brazilian population were at home. This Tuesday’s number is being calculated while this article is published.
The idea was born around a week ago, on March 21st, during a meeting of the In Loco team to review the company’s business planning in the midst of the crisis. The following Tuesday, the tests started with the city of Recife, in the Northeast state of Pernambuco, where the startup was born.
“(At the meeting) we thought that if the most important measure to be taken at this moment is that of social distance, well, if there is someone who can measure this, it is us. And I think the most difficult thing at the moment is to measure it, since we are talking about a continental country. Other ways of doing this, like putting the police on the streets, would not work. We started testing in Recife and, in a few days, we saw that it worked ,” the company’s CEO André Ferraz told LABS.
According to him, 20 of the 26 Brazilian states are already in contact with the startup and are using the tool in the pre-operational phase (they can access the data, but they’re still learning how to use it) or in an operational stage (teams already trained, and using the tool).
In addition to Brazil, In Loco is also in contact with other countries in Latin America (Mexico, Argentina and Colombia) and also in Europe (Italy) to offer them the same technology.
The first version of this article was published on Tuesday. One day after, In Loco opened the data to the entire population, on its own website. In it, everyone can see the national score (the national percentage of isolation), and follow the evolution of that data day by day. For state and city governments, which need this data more urgently, the company is already working on an hourly update.
How does In Loco’s geolocation tool work?
For anyone who wonders how the startup manages to do this, it is quite simple: In Loco’s software unit is integrated with a series of partner applications, from large banks to big retailers.
In Loco’s technology helps these apps with security and anti-fraud authentication and verification actions, in addition to uses such as counting visits at a given commercial establishment. But the most important thing is that this is done anonymously. That is, the only information actually collected from mobile devices is its location. Data such as the name of the person who owns or uses the device is not collected.
“Another fundamental issue (of the tool) that is being discussed worldwide is privacy. Other technologies were not prepared for this, and this has been a mission at In Loco since the beginning”, explains Ferraz.
To compose the Social Isolation Index, the collected data form a kind of fingerprint of the device. This information is encrypted and aggregated. That done, the data starts to indicate the movement of people in a given space.
As a parameter, for states and cities, In Loco uses data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IBGE. Within cities, the measure used is a radius of 400 meters. Thus, a high percentage of isolation represents a small number of people entering or leaving a certain region.
How can In Loco data be used to combat Covid-19?
The most immediate use of the tool, which is now being presented to states and cities, is to identify regions that are not complying with the recommendations for social distance. With this information in hand, the state and municipal governments can act more assertively in raising the population’s awareness. The technology also allows sending push notification alerts via government applications.
Another possible use currently being studied is the measurement of agglomerations in supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals.
“We can use this for two things: in the case of hospitals, governments can more efficiently allocate both patients and health professionals; and in the case of pharmacies and supermarkets, the idea is to inform the consumers about whether there is a greater risk (of contagion) in that store due to the number of people, also indicating another pharmacy or supermarket nearby where he can go “, explains Ferraz. Defining a parameter for this will be relatively easy, since In Loco has a history of what normal movement in these locations would be like before Covid-19.
Business model under review
With part of the 200 employees focused on the new project, In Loco is also reviewing its operation. In February, the company opened an office in the United States, using 60% of the last BRL 80 million contribution received in 2019. The goal in the country is to learn more about geolocation in the Internet of Things (IoT) era and doing it in the country where privacy issues are most put to the test.
In Brazil, In Loco has clients as diverse as Santander, Magalu, Hering and Banco Original. The startup’s focus is on companies whose online operations have a strong connection with their offline operations.
In this context, the company operates mainly in two segments: financial (with a focus on security solutions and fraud prevention) and retail (measurement and flow generation solutions in physical stores). At the moment, the second segment is “paused”.
“We did this not only for the sake of business, but because it would be harmful to the health of the population (working on this type of action) right now”, points out the company’s CEO.
The Social Isolation Index ended up opening the company’s eyes to the relationship with the public sector. But it is still too early to think whether the idea, now freely offered to countries, states and cities, could give rise to a new commercial product from In Loco.
“Right now, we are focused on using our technology to have a positive impact on society, rather than as a business model. I hope that we as a company will not deviate from our focus because we have been working for a long time with something very specific that is to solve the problem of privacy in the near future, when the Internet of Things is a reality. And this is already a very big problem to be solved “, emphasizes Ferraz.