The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bought location data from tens of millions of phones for the purpose of tracking Americans’ compliance with quarantine guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to documents obtained by Vice News.
The documents, reportedly dated from 2021, show that the data was used to monitor curfews, movement to and from K-12 schools and compliance with travel restrictions. The agency also appeared to specifically study these questions within the Navajo nation, although the reasoning why is unclear, Vice’s technology vertical Motherboard reported.
The CDC reportedly paid $420,000 for one year of data from SafeGraph, a data broker with a controversial history.
Safegraph’s investors include the former head of the Saudi intelligence service and Peter Thiel. The company was banned from the Google Play Store for violating its terms on data collection, Vice reported. This week, following the report that the Supreme Court could soon reverse the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, SafeGraph announced it will stop selling location tracking data on visits to abortion providers, according to CNBC.
The CDC listed 21 “use cases” for the location data in the documents obtained by Vice. Some of the material Vice reviewed indicates that the data wasn’t exclusively used for coronavirus-related issues, though.
The documents state that the procurement request for the data was an “URGENT COVID-19” request which should be expedited. But the documents show the data was to be used for research on locations for chronic disease prevention like gyms and parks, and population migration before, during and after natural disasters.