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Facebook to share data with aid groups via 'disaster maps'

The social network says the anonymized data could help the Red Cross and others focus on areas that have been hit hardest.

Facebook location data could help reveal where help is most needed in an emergency.
Facebook location data could help reveal where help is most needed in a crisis.
Facebook; screenshot by CNET

Facebook plans to share user data with aid organizations to help out in emergences.

In a blog post Wednesday, the world's largest social network said it will create "disaster maps" for aid groups like the Red Cross, using anonymized data on its users' locations, movements and status updates.

In the event of an earthquake, flood or other catastrophe, the maps could, among other things, help aid agencies decide where to focus their efforts and how to deal with traffic congestion.

"Facebook can help response organizations paint a more complete picture of where affected people are located so they can determine where resources -- like food, water and medical supplies -- are needed and where people are out of harm's way," the company said.

The "de-identified" data will include "aggregated location information people have chosen to share with Facebook," the company said, adding that the project was developed with input from UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme, among others.

Facebook already offers a Safety Check tool, designed to let people who may be in trouble let family and friends know they're safe. The tool has been activated hundreds of times, including on Saturday, when it was triggered by the terror attacks in London.

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