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Data broker SafeGraph stops selling abortion-provider information

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People protest after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this yr, in Latest York City, U.S., May 3, 2022. 

Yana Paskova | Reuters

The web data-location broker SafeGraph said it has stopped selling information on visits to abortion clinics after a report from Vice revealed how easily the info could possibly be purchased, raising concerns that “anti-abortion vigilantes” could use it to focus on providers and their clients.

Vice reported Tuesday that it purchased every week’s value of location data for greater than 600 Planned Parenthood locations across the US for just over $160 from SafeGraph.

A few of those locations offer abortion services, in accordance with the report.

And the info showed where groups of individuals visiting those facilities got here from, the duration of their visits and where they traveled afterward, in accordance with the Vice Motherboard article.

SafeGraph, whose investors reportedly have included billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel and a former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, obtains and aggregates location data from apps installed on people’s mobile phones.

The corporate says that the “Patterns” data of the sort purchased by Vice, which shows how groups of individuals interact with a given location, is anonymized to guard the privacy of individual visitors.

But Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher, told Vice: “It’s bonkers dangerous to have abortion clinics after which let someone buy the census tracks where individuals are coming from to go to that abortion clinic.”

“That is the way you ‘dox’ someone traveling across state lines for abortions — the way you dox clinics providing this service,” Edwards said.

Vice’s article was published a day after a Politico report on a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion, which indicates that a majority of justices have voted to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling that claims people have a constitutional right to abortions.

If that finally ends up being the official decision of the high court this summer, the ruling is anticipated to quickly result in the banning of abortion, or the severe restriction of the procedure, in as much as two dozen states.

That, in turn, is anticipated to extend the number of individuals traveling from their home states to acquire abortions at clinics in states where the procedure still could be legal, as has been the case recently since Texas adopted a restrictive latest abortion law.

When asked in regards to the Vice article by CNBC on Wednesday, a SafeGraph spokesman emailed a link to an internet post titled, “Demystifying the SafeGraph Facts.”

Within the post, the corporate said it “just sells facts,” and “we only sell data about physical places (not individuals).”

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“To our knowledge, no person has ever used SafeGraph Patterns data for malicious purposes,” the post said. “In truth, the Patterns dataset has mostly been utilized by 15,000+ researchers and academics and native governments to combat COVID-19.”

“But there are all the time extreme hypothetical corner cases, and in some cases these are value actively stopping,” the post noted.

“In light of potential federal changes in family planning access, we’re removing Patterns data for locations classified as NAICS code 621410 (‘Family Planning Centers’) from our self-serve “shop” and API to curtail any potential misuse of its data,” the post added.

SafeGraph said the removal of this data will affect many academic researchers who want to review the subject, “like understanding the impact of laws on family planning visits.”

“We acknowledge that our decision to take down Patterns for family planning centers could negatively impact this helpful research, but we predict that is the fitting decision given the present climate,” the corporate said.

SafeGraph said it would still have data on the market in regards to the locations and operating hours of family planning centers.

“Family Planning centers like Planned Parenthood make their location data public because they need to serve their constituents,” SafeGraph said.

Planned Parenthood made no immediate comment to CNBC in regards to the SafeGraph data.

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