A data location brokerage called SafeGraph said it will no longer sell location data of groups of people visiting Planned Parenthood and other clinics offering abortions following a recent vice. report. Previously, buyers of this data could tell where visitors to these clinics came from, how long they stayed at the clinic, and where they were going next.
SafeGraph announced on Tuesday that it has decided to back down in part because of the announcement of a leak initial draft majority opinion that shows the United States Supreme Court’s apparent interest in invalidating Roe vs. Wadea titanic decision that would effectively make abortion illegal in many states.
“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,” SafeGraph wrote on its website.
In an interview with Gizmodo, a spokesperson for SafeGraph said the company made the decision partly because of the “polarizing” nature of the data and in response to what it considers “misinformation” regarding the how their data may be used.
“We are confident that the data poses no risk to the privacy or security of individuals and have had no reports of individuals or parties using our data in a malicious manner,” the company spokesperson said. . “But because this is such a polarizing and sensitive topic, it makes sense for us to proactively suspend access to our aggregate data linked to family planning clinics to unknown users.”
Controversy over SafeGraph data comes as activists and lawmakers warn of potential weaponization of personal data to track women seeking abortions in message Roe vs. Wade America. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden commented on the grim possibility of anti-abortion vigilantes using data to track people in a recent interview with Gizmodo.
“If the Supreme Court follows through and overturns Roe, every digital record — from web searches to phone records and app data — will be weaponized in Republican states to control women’s bodies,” Wyden said. at Gizmodo. “The simple act of looking for a ‘pregnancy test’ could lead to a woman being stalked, harassed and assaulted.”
SafeGraph, whose finances would have includes Peter Thiel and a former Saudi intelligence chief, aggregates the data it collects from phone apps and sells it. The company assures users that all of its data is anonymized, though privacy experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and elsewhere report it is “trivially easy” to link this type of data with real identities.
Despite these concerns, SafeGraph reiterated to Gizmodo its confidence in the company’s ability to keep the data anonymous.
“We have always considered privacy our first priority and our data cannot be anonymized to identify individuals,” the spokesperson said. “I can only speak on behalf of SafeGraph, but we have never met anyone who has used our data to identify an individual, despite tens of thousands of the world’s top data scientists and researchers analyzing our data. over the past few years. We believe that our data protects the identity of individuals.
There is already evidence of data being used to target abortion seekers. In 2017, a Mississippi woman was would have charged with second-degree murder after prosecutors were able to use her online search results for abortion pills as a motive following a failed pregnancy. Two years prior, Indiana prosecutors used a woman’s phone messages about alleged online purchases of abortion pills in a case that led to the woman’s discovery. guilty feticide and child neglect.
SafeGraph has expressed reservations about its decision to stop selling abortion-related data, saying it could negatively impact researchers.
“The removal of this data will impact many academics who wish to study this topic (such as understanding the impact of family planning visitation legislation),” the company said. “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.”
“Making location data convenient and accessible through self-service has the downside that we are not able to fully control who is purchasing the data,” the spokesperson said. “The benefit is that it gets our data quickly into the hands of researchers doing very important work.”