(Pocket-lint) - Facebook has partnered with Carnegie Mellon researchers to help better understand COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

They are offering a survey that will appear at the top of the Facebook news feed. It will ask users to share information about their health and symptoms. The survey is not mandatory; it's voluntary. Facebook said the identities of those who opt-in will be protected as well, as the company won’t be able to see the results, and it is hiding the survey participants’ identities from the Carnegie Mellon researchers.

Facebook already points users to official COVID-19 information via messages at the top of users’ news feed. But, with this study run by Carnegie Mellon researchers, it's hoping to "generate new insights on how to respond to the crisis, including heat maps of self-reported symptoms".

The survey is launching in the US and might expand “if the results are helpful". Surveys that track symptoms across the US population can help researchers in a number of ways, including possibly seeing how coronavirus infections are spreading throughout the country and pinpointing areas that may need tests. Facebook said it's giving researchers access to anonymised location information.

Facebook isn't the only one to launch a symptom tracker such as this survey. UK researchers, as part of a collaboration between King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, launched the COVID Symptom Tracker app in an attempt to better understand the pandemic. Similarly, the hope is to collect information about whether people in the UK feel sick and to identify hotspots.

Apple, too, offers its own COVID-19 screening tool.

Writing by Maggie Tillman.