CDC Tracked Millions of Phones to See If Americans Followed COVID Lockdown Orders
The documents reveal the expansive plan the CDC had last year to use location data from a highly controversial data broker. SafeGraph, the company the CDC paid $420,000 for access to one year of data, includes Peter Thiel and the former head of Saudi intelligence [Turki bin Faisal Al Saud] among its investors. Google banned the company from the Play Store in June.
The CDC used the data for monitoring curfews, with the documents saying that SafeGraph’s data “has been critical for ongoing response efforts, such as hourly monitoring of activity in curfew zones or detailed counts of visits to participating pharmacies for vaccine monitoring.” The documents date from 2021.
Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher who closely follows the data marketplace, told Motherboard in an online chat after reviewing the documents: “The CDC seems to have purposefully created an open-ended list of use cases, which included monitoring curfews, neighbor-to-neighbor visits, visits to churches, schools and pharmacies, and also a variety of analysis with this data specifically focused on ‘violence.’” (The document doesn’t stop at churches; it mentions “places of worship.”)
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On its website SafeGraph says “We believe places data should be open for all.” In April 2017, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, invested in SafeGraph as part of a $16 million Series A funding round. SafeGraph said it had “assembled the deepest policy thinkers.” Beyond Faisal Al Saud, SafeGraph said it had enlisted the help of former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, author Sam Harris, Meghan O’Sullivan who ran Iraq and Afghanistan policy under President George Bush, former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama Mona Sutphen, and former German Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, among others. Peter Thiel is also an investor in the company.
More investors: SafeGraph Raises $16 Million Series A