Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

SafeGraph’s 17 Trillion Data Points

Adrianne Jeffries, the Outline:

This morning, a few publications ran with a holiday-themed data study about how families that voted for opposite parties spent less time together on Thanksgiving, especially in areas that saw heavy political advertising. It’s an interesting finding about how partisan the country is becoming, and admirably, the study’s authors tried to get data that would be more accurate than self-reporting through surveys. To do this, they tapped a company called SafeGraph that provided them with 17 trillion location markers for 10 million smartphones.

The data wasn’t just staggering in sheer quantity. It also appears to be extremely granular. Researchers “used this data to identify individuals’ home locations, which they defined as the places people were most often located between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.,” wrote The Washington Post.

SafeGraph was also able to use their data to state that attendees at Donald Trump’s inauguration had lower household incomes than those attending the Women’s March the following day which, regardless of whether you believe it, is a deeply creepy claim.

I have no idea which apps share my data with SafeGraph because I grant so many apps approval to share collected information with third parties, with no mention of what those third parties may be. I don’t like that I have seemingly no control over this; blanket approval statements are pretty standard in privacy policies on websites and in apps, and they need to be stopped. I did not explicitly give permission for my data to be shared with a creepy location tracking company, and it’s completely unfair to assume that it’s okay.

For what it’s worth, iOS should also request explicit permission to enable ad tracking. It is presently allowed by default — at least in Canada — and users must opt out in Settings.