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Science Shouldn’t Give Data Brokers Cover for Stealing Your Privacy

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When SafeGraph got caught selling location information on Planned Parenthood visitors last year, the data broker responded to public outcry by removing its family planning center data. But CEO Auren Hoffman tried to flip the script, claiming his company’s practice of harvesting and sharing sensitive data was actually an engine for beneficial research on abortion access—brandishing science as a shield for shredding people’s privacy.

SafeGraph’s move to cloak its privacy pillaging behind science comes as just one example of an industry-wide dodge. Other companies such as Veraset, Cuebiq and X-Mode also operate so-called data for good programs with academics and seized on the COVID pandemic to expand them. These brokers provide location data to academic researchers with prestigious publications in venues such as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Yet in 2020 Veraset also gave Washington, D.C., officials bulk location data on hundreds of thousands of people without their consent. And a proposed class-action lawsuit this year named Cuebiq,…

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