May 5, 2022
Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas
Good morning! Location data broker SafeGraph found itself at the center of a firestorm this week after a report that the company was selling abortion clinic data to third parties. Its CEO is now making big changes to how the company does business. I’m Kate Kaye, and I already miss AMC’s “Better Call Saul” even though the final season just started.
“I think it's good that we were called out,” Auren Hoffman, CEO of location data provider SafeGraph, told me yesterday.
Like other providers of controversial location data, SafeGraph began making its data — that shows where or how often people move around the country — available for free to nonprofit organizations and government agencies around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The information was used as a means of assessing whether people complied with social distancing rules, for example.
But according to a Motherboard story published Tuesday, SafeGraph sold information showing where groups of people visiting clinics providing family planning and abortion services had traveled from, how long they stayed and where they traveled afterwards.
This sort of information is sold by location data providers to advertisers, real estate developers and other business customers, as well as government customers, and it has been for years. SafeGraph calls the data it sells that shows the locations where anonymized mobile devices move “Patterns” data.
SafeGraph announced it would remove the data from its online self-serve data platform and from the API through which it distributes data to customers. But researchers interested in the data are already complaining about its removal.
Privacy concerns have gotten in the way of data access for researchers in the past. But the same considerations have been used as a convenient argument by companies such as Meta when it comes to data transparency and access for academic researchers.
Now Hoffman said that SafeGraph might consider altering its approach to data access. “We could say, only vetted researchers can get access to this data, whereas the broader public can get less access to the data, and that's something we might do," he said. "So we are evaluating those types of things.”
But when asked yesterday whether the company would name any of the partners it works with to supply location data showing patterns of places people visit, Hoffman said he could not. Why? NDAs, he said.Sign up here to get it in your inbox every day.
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Stanford University now has a climate school. VC John Doerr gave $1.1 billion to the college to start a school focused on sustainability.
This week has been … a lot. It’s hard to log off Twitter and stop reading the news, so we want to know how you take your mind off things.
Do you follow all the doomscrolling reminder bots on Twitter? If so, which ones? Do you set time limits for scrolling through Instagram? Do you use an app, like Headspace, to wind down? Or do you just throw your phone across the room? Respond to this email and let us know, and we’ll round up our favorites in the Sunday edition of Source Code.
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