Location data broker SafeGraph stops selling visitation information to abortion providers
People are protesting after a majority opinion draft authored by Judge Samuel Alito leaked, setting up a court majority to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade on abortion rights later this year, in New York, USA on May 3, 2022.
Yana Paskova | Reuters
Online data location broker SafeGraph said it had stopped selling information about visits to abortion clinics after a report by Vice revealed how easily the data could be bought, which raised fears that “anti-abortion vigilantes” could use them to target providers and their clients. .
Vice reported on Tuesday that it purchased a week’s worth of location data for more than 600 Planned Parenthood locations across the United States for just over $160 from SafeGraph.
Some of these places offer abortion services, according to the report.
And the data showed where the groups of people visiting these facilities came from, the duration of their visits and where they subsequently traveled, according to the Vice Motherboard article.
SafeGraph, whose investors reportedly include billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel and a former head of the Saudi intelligence agency, obtains and aggregates location data from apps installed on people’s cellphones.
The company says “Patterns” data of the type purchased by Vice, which shows how groups of people interact with a given location, is anonymized to protect the privacy of individual visitors.
But Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher, told Vice, “It’s damn dangerous to have abortion clinics and then have someone buy the census leads where people are coming from to visit that clinic. abortion.”
“That’s how you ‘dox’ someone who crosses state lines for abortions — how you dox the clinics providing that service,” Edwards said.
The Vice article was published the day after a Politico report on a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, which indicates that a majority of justices voted to overturn the Roe v. Wade, half a century old, who says people have a constitutional right to abortions.
If that ends up being the official High Court ruling this summer, the ruling should quickly lead to abortion being banned, or the procedure severely restricted, in up to two dozen states.
This, in turn, should increase the number of people traveling from their home state to have abortions in clinics located in states where the procedure would still be legal, as has been the case recently since Texas adopted a new restrictive law on abortion.
When asked about the Vice article by CNBC on Wednesday, a SafeGraph spokesperson emailed a link to an online article titled “Demystifying the facts of SafeGraph.”
In the post, the company said it “only sells facts” and “we only sell data about physical locations (not individuals).”
“To our knowledge, no one has ever used SafeGraph Patterns data for malicious purposes,” the post read. “In fact, the Patterns dataset has been used primarily by over 15,000 researchers, academics, and local governments to fight COVID-19.”
“But there are always extreme hypothetical cases, and in some cases it is worth actively preventing them,” the message notes.
“In light of potential federal changes to family planning access, we are removing Patterns data for locations categorized under NAICS code 621410 (“Family Planning Centers”) from our self-service “store” and our API to limit any potential misuse of its data,” the post adds.
SafeGraph said the removal of this data will affect many academic researchers who want to study the topic, “like understanding the impact of legislation on family planning visits.”
“We recognize that our decision to remove Patterns for Family Planning Clinics could negatively impact this valuable research, but we believe it is the right decision given the current climate,” the company said.
SafeGraph said it will always have data to sell on family planning clinic locations and hours of operation.
“Family planning centers like Planned Parenthood make their location data public because they want to serve their constituents,” SafeGraph said.
Planned Parenthood had no immediate comment to CNBC on the SafeGraph data.
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