How the CDC bought YOUR data to enforce the lockdown: The health agency paid the company $420,000 to track tens of millions of cellphones and see who went to schools and churches during the pandemic
- CDC paid $420,000 for location data from brokerage firm SafeGraph, report says
- Tracking data was used to measure compliance with pandemic lockdowns
- The data was aggregated, meaning the CDC did not track specific people
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paid for location data collected from millions of cellphones to track compliance with COVID-19 lockdown measures, according to a new report.
The CDC paid $420,000 for a year of access to cellphone location data from data brokerage firm SafeGraph, according to documents reported by Vice News on Tuesday.
The data was aggregated, meaning it was meant to show general trends rather than specific phone movements, but the move still set off alarm bells for some privacy advocates.
The CDC and SafeGraph did not respond to messages from DailyMail.com seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
The CDC paid $420,000 for a year of access to cellphone location data from data brokerage firm SafeGraph, to track compliance with COVID-19 lockdown measures
According to Vice, the documents show that the CDC planned to use the data to analyze compliance with curfews, track the habits of people visiting K-12 schools and specifically monitor the effectiveness of the policy in the Navajo Nation.
CDC documents describe SafeGraph data as “essential for ongoing response efforts, such as hourly monitoring of activity in curfew areas or detailed counts of visits to participating pharmacies for monitoring vaccines”.
Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher who follows the data market closely, told Vice that it appears the CDC has broader ambitions for location data beyond tracking the pandemic response.
“The CDC appears to have deliberately created an open-ended list of use cases, which included curfew monitoring, neighbor-to-neighbor visits, church, school, and pharmacy visits, as well as a variety of analyzes with this data specifically focused on “violence,” he told the outlet.
At the start of the pandemic, SafeGraph made some of its aggregated data and analysis public to help inform the policy response to the pandemic.
CDC documents describe SafeGraph data as “essential for ongoing response efforts, such as hourly monitoring of activity in curfew areas.”
The data showed, for example, how visits to bars and restaurants had changed from the pre-pandemic average.
In an April 2020 blog post, the company described how the CDC was using free data, including “to better understand where COVID-19 has the potential to spread the most.”
However, last year SafeGraph apparently decided to start charging for its location data.
The controversial company is financially backed by Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the former head of the Saudi intelligence agency.
Billionaire Peter Thiel is also an investor in the company.
In June, Google banned SafeGraph from the Android app store, meaning apps incorporating the company’s tracking codes were forced to remove it.
SafeGraph collected at least some of its data through codes embedded in other apps.