[Plura-list] Safegraph follows people into abortion clinics and then sells the data

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat May 7 07:52:35 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/05/07/safegraph-spies-and-lies/


This weekend (May 6-8), I'm Guest of Honor at the Demicon 33 science fiction convention in Des Moines:



Today's links

* Safegraph follows people into abortion clinics and then sells the data: And then they lie about it.

* Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.

* This day in history: 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading


🧑🏿‍🎤 Safegraph follows people into abortion clinics and then sells the data

As theocrats in robes, appointed by presidents who lost their elections, make ready to impose forced birth on half of America, it's right to worry that police in thrall to "the party of small government" will spy on, hunt down, and punish people who get abortions (or miscarry).

It's not all despair. This era of forced birth offers many possibilities that were denied in the pre-Roe era. The advent of abortion pills, which can be procured by mail, is truly game-changing:


Some of these pills will be mailed from foreign lands, others from out-of-state. States whose governments oppose the forced-birth movement have vowed to defend their residents from legal persecution emanating from forced-birth states.

Telemedicine also profoundly changes the tactical landscape. Digital abortion clinics like Hey Jane are committed to providing low-cost care to all comers:


Even those low costs may be beyond the means of the poor people whom forced-birth laws target (wealthy pregnant people can just buy a plane ticket out of the state or the country). Digital tools help here, too, with online abortion funds picking up the tab (consider donating to an abortion fund today):


Clearinghouses like I Need An A put all of this together: input your age, zip-code and weeks since your last period and they'll direct you to providers, funding, and travel advice:


But the small minority of Americans who favor forced-birth are nothing if not cruel. As pregnant people and their allies circumvent abortion bans, they will strike back. And while forced-birth cultists are a small part of the population, they have powerful allies: wealthy sociopaths who need their backing in the "conservative coalition."

"Fiscal conservativism" (the ideology that says poor people should be pushed into extreme precarity so they're willing to do terrible, dangerous jobs for starvation wages) is at its lowest ebb of popularity in living memory. Rich people need useful idiots, and forced-birth cultists are those idiots:


After all, if "fiscal conservativism" fails, then the rich might struggle to find people willing to camp out for a week to get them a spot at the front of the line for Hamilton tickets and vaccines:


The alliance of the wealthy and cruel with the religious and cruel means that anyone who thwarts forced-birth laws needs to fear both private and state retribution, and must take steps to evade the ubiquitous surveillance that the merger of ad-tech and policing has produced.

That's where the power of digital tools meets the peril of digital tools. All the things that you might do to get an abortion - searching for information, visiting a telemedicine provider, receiving money from an abortion fund, paying for abortion pills - will leave digital footprints. Most of all, your physical movements will produce a digital trail, thanks to ad-based tracking in your phone.

Last week, Motherboard's Joseph Cox laid down $160 with Safegraph, a digital adtech/surveillance company, and got back the location trails of everyone who'd visited 600 Planned Parenthood locations. Safegraph claimed that this data was "anonymized." This is a lie. It's really, really easy to "re-identify" location data.


How easy? One team found that they could re-identify 50% of the devices in an anonymized location data set by analyzing *any two random data-points* from their movements:


Practically speaking: Safegraph's data can be used to identify nearly everyone who visits an abortion provider, and also reveal their home addresses and places of work. Naturally, Safegraph's CEO denied this. He lied.


As my EFF colleagues Gennie Gebhart and Bennett Cyphers explain, Safegraph's claims that they don't sell this data are just a shell-game.


After a series of scandals that resulted in Safegraph being banned from Google's App Store, the company spun out Veraset, which sells the data that Safegraph says it no longer sells:


Take Veraset's "Movement" product: "Our core population human movement dataset delivers the most granular and frequent GPS signals available in a third-party dataset. Unlike other data providers who rely on one SDK, we source from thousands of apps and SDKs to avoid a biased sample."


Safegraph claims it will no longer sell location data linked to abortion clinics, but Safegraph is not a reliable source of information about Safegraph - and they're also not the only ad-tech snoops who could endanger people who get abortions and people who help them.

The forced-birth movement is extremely interested in period-tracking apps, which have long been a cesspool of commercial surveillance:


Given how easy it is to buy menstruation data derived from these apps, and how easy it is to cross-reference that with location data and other identifiers, it's right to worry that period-trackers might be used in witch-hunts by parents, abusive ex-spouses, and suspicious neighbors.

As my colleague Eva Galperin told Carly Page at Techcrunch, "we are facing a future in which the data collected by period-tracking apps could be used either as a dragnet to identify women who may have had an abortion or as evidence that a woman has had an abortion in a future in which seeking out or having an abortion is criminalized, which is something anti-abortion advocates have been eager to do."


Forced-birth cultists aren't the only people who want to use commercial surveillance data to harm you. There's a whole bestiary of snoops, scammers and abusers who value this data - from the creeps who compile "risk profiles" on you for future employers to the creeps who spy on your kids for their school district to determine if they're bad apples.

The imminent collapse of Roe should be a wake-up call: not just for long-overdue legislation to legalize abortion based on equal protection under the law (as is the case under Canadian legal precedent), but to end the commercial surveillance industry.

The USA desperately needs a federal privacy law with a private right of action, which would effectively end this kind of surveillance, whether at the hands of Big Tech or obscure, bottom-feeding data-brokers like Safegraph:


While we're waiting, there are some steps you can take to keep yourself safe, like deleting the advertising identifier on your phone, which is the primary way that ad-tech tracks you:

Here's Android instructions:


And here's Iphone instructions:


Take location permission away from any app that doesn't need it. Install tracker-blockers like Privacy Badger. Switch from high-surveillance browsers like Chrome to safer alternatives like Firefox, Brave and Safari.

For comprehensive advice, here's EFF's Street Level Surveillance guide for reproductive healthcare providers, seekers, and advocates:


For Californians, if you're curious about what data Safegraph and Veraset have nonconsensually acquired about your movements, you can file a "right to know" request demanding that they cough up that data.

Here's the Safegraph right to know form:


And here's the Veraset right to know form:


You can also legally require them to stop spying on you and selling your data. But that will still leave you vulnerable to data collection and sale by literally hundreds of other companies:


You can go through each of those if you want (Nevada residents can also opt out), but frankly, this is no way to run a digital society. These companies shouldn't exist, period, and if they do exist, they shouldn't be allowed to sell data without your enthusiastic, informed consent.

Let's be honest: the reason these companies don't seek that enthusiastic, informed consent is that they know no one would give it.


🧑🏿‍🎤 Hey look at this

* Nashville Public Library issues "I Read Banned Books" library cards https://boingboing.net/2022/05/05/nashville-public-library-issues-i-read-banned-books-library-cards.html

*  The Artificial Grottoes of the Renaissance and Beyond https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/petrified-waters

* “Are You For 86?” by Bruce Sterling (1992) https://bruces.medium.com/are-you-for-86-by-bruce-sterling-1992-1224c33a1d98 ("In the American Civil Cold War, what comes around, goes around")


🧑🏿‍🎤 This day in history

#20yrsago Emulating an IBM mainframe on a Psion palmtop https://web.archive.org/web/20020605082600/http://www.conmicro.cx/hercules/

#20yrsago Washington Post reporter doxes online critics, tries to get them fired https://web.archive.org/web/20020615092309/https://prospect.org/webfeatures/2002/05/nyhan-b-05-07.html

#15yrsago HOWTO own a 128-bit number! #AACS https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2007/05/07/you-can-own-integer-too-get-yours-here/

#15yrsago Unauthorized Mickey Mouse pirate tee pays tribute to Dali https://web.archive.org/web/20070509034345/http://www.trestriges.com/en/t-shirts.html

#15yrsago BBC Trustees agree to let BBC infect Britain with DRM https://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2007/05/bbc-trust-approves-final-plan-for-drmed-program-downloads/

#10yrsago AAirpass: American Airlines’s all-you-can-eat lifetime first class ticket, and what became of it https://web.archive.org/web/20120506043051/https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0506-golden-ticket-20120506,0,3094073,full.story

#10yrsago Savage beatings for pro-democracy, anti-Putin protesters in Russia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxTBF57cYw4

#10yrsago Makers, the Master’s thesis https://practicalaesthetics.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/my-makers-thesis-is-done/

#10yrsago Scorching legal response from Dajaz1.com to the unsealed US gov’t docs on the illegal, sleazy seizure of its domain name https://web.archive.org/web/20120510024553/http://dajaz1.com/our-response-to-unsealed-court-documents-in-dajaz1-domain-seizure/

#10yrsago New Kansas abortion bill lets doctors lie to patients, withhold cancer treatmenthttps://web.archive.org/web/20120508004509/https://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/04/478174/kansas-anti-abortion-bill-would-force-doctors-to-warn-women-of-false-cancer-risk/

#5yrsago In Oklahoma, a law to bankrupt groups that organize political protests https://theintercept.com/2017/05/06/oklahoma-governor-signs-anti-protest-law-imposing-huge-fines-on-conspirator-organizations/

#5yrsago Soupy Leaves Home: a masterpiece of YA graphic storytelling, about hobos on the open road https://memex.craphound.com/2017/05/06/soupy-leaves-home-a-masterpiece-of-ya-graphic-storytelling-about-hobos-on-the-open-road/

#5yrsago Idaho GOP Congressjerk: “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care” https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article149013339.html

#5yrsago Matt Furie celebrated yesterday’s Free Comic Book Day by killing off Pepe the Frog https://www.themarysue.com/pepe-the-frog-free-comic-book-day/

#5yrsago Irish police open blasphemy investigation into Stephen Fry for calling God an “utter maniac” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/stephen-fry-blasphemy-god-utter-maniac-ireland-gardai-rte-meaning-of-life-atheist-a7722081.html

#5yrsago How to support a writer’s career https://memex.craphound.com/2017/05/07/how-to-support-a-writers-career/

#1yrago The FTC's (kick-ass) Right to Repair report https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/07/pro-act-class-war/#we-fixit

#1yrago The PRO Act and worker misclassification https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/07/pro-act-class-war/#sectoral-balances

#1yrago NY AG attributes Net Neutrality fraud to telcos: 18 million fraudulent comments filed in the FCC docket https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/06/boogeration/#pais-lies

#1yrago Ed-tech apps spy on kids https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/06/boogeration/#i-spy

#1yrago Scammers recycled covid nose-swabs https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/06/boogeration/#up-your-nose


🧑🏿‍🎤 Colophon

Currently writing:

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 504 words (92343 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Revenge Of The Chickenized Reverse Centaurs

Upcoming appearances:

* Demicon 33 (Des Moines), May 6-8

* The Sci-Fi Feedback Loop: Mapping Fiction’s Influence on Real-World Tech (Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination), May 12

* OpenJSWorld Keynote (Austin), Jun 8

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference (London), Jun 15-16

* A New HOPE (NYC), Jul 24

Recent appearances:

* Revolutionizing Activism — The Power of Utopia (Center for Artistic Activism)

* A Little Patience and a Lot of Tape (This Week in Tech)

* Blockchain, Crypto & Web3 (Life Itself podcast)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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