CDC Collecting Tens of Millions of Americans’ Location Data - And Not Just for COVID

© AP Photo / John BazemoreThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.05.2022
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purchased data from SafeGraph, a data broker company that includes the former head of Saudi intelligence as one of its primary investors. SafeGraph was previously banned from the Google Play store for how it handled user data.
The CDC tracked the movement of millions of Americans both for insights into COVID-19 lockdown efficiency and non COVID-19 reasons, according to a report by Vice.
The documents obtained by Vice through the Freedom of Information Act show the CDC purchased data harvested from phones of tens of millions of Americans. The CDC used that data to see how often curfews and stay at home orders were being followed, the movements of people visiting schools and to monitor the effectiveness of the Navajo Nation’s more stringent COVID-19 response.
The CDC paid $420,000 for one year of aggregated data, intended to be used to track trends, but research has shown that the sort of data the CDC purchased can easily be used to deanonymize and identify individuals.
A security researcher named Zach Edwards spoke to Vice after reviewing the documents and raised his concerns. “The CDC seems to have purposefully created an open-ended list of use cases, which included monitoring curfews, neighbor to neighbor visits, visits to [places of worship], schools and pharmacies, and also a variety of analysis with this data specifically focused on ‘violence,’” he noted.
The CDC used COVID-19 as justification to expedite the purchase, but also stated in its documents that it plans to use the data for more general purposes, like research into physical activities and weight management.
While tracking data has proven useful in monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and the effectiveness of various lockdown attempts, it is also concerning for privacy advocates.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a privacy-focused advocacy group that spoke out against plans from the government to process personal data under the umbrella of COVID-19 prevention back in the earliest days of the pandemic.
“One of the things we have learned over time is that something that seems anonymous, more often than not, is not anonymous, even if it’s designed with the best intentions,” the privacy advocacy group wrote in a blog post dated March 23, 2020.
The EFF noted more recently that the CDC is also purchasing similar data from another broker called Cubeiq, and like with the SafeGraph data, it expedited the purchase under the guise of COVID-19 prevention but also intended to use it for general purposes.
As Vice notes, this revelation may only add fuel to the conspiracy that COVID-19 lockdowns, vaccines and other prevention attempts are part of a larger plan by world governments to restrict the freedom of their citizens.
The big data and analytic market had an estimated value of over $198 billion in 2020.
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