Google banned a location-tracking company that sold users' data

The CDC and 'New York Times' are among SafeGraph's customers.

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Google has banned SafeGraph, a company that captured and sold Android users' location data, Motherboard reports. Android developers who used the company's software development kit (SDK) were given seven days to remove SafeGraph's location gathering tools from their apps or face possible ejection from the Play Store.

Some of the data SafeGraph obtained was from apps that harnessed the SDK. The apps were able to track user locations, though many people many not be aware how companies use their data. 

Google brought the hammer down on SafeGraph in early June. It's not clear if any apps are still using the SDK or if Google has taken action against developers who haven't removed SafeGuard's plug-ins. Engadget has contacted Google for comment.

With context, it's possible to find out details about individuals using location data, even when it's supposedly anonymized. Data Motherboard bought from SafeGraph showed the movement of users between points of interest. The company also sells secondary information from other companies to augment the location data, according to the report. Other datasets are said to include the names of people who own property in the US, which could reveal details about individual users.

SafeGraph reportedly sells its location data to almost anyone willing to pay for it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is said to be among SafeGraph's customers, while The New York Times used SafeGraph data for a project that showed where people were gathering after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were loosened. The publication told Motherboard that it aggregated the location data.

In February, Google took a similar action against Predicio, which is linked to a company named Venntel. Public contracts that emerged last year showed that US Customs and Border Protection bought data from Venntel, reportedly for warrantless phone tracking. Google and Apple both banned X-Mode, another location data broker, last December. Location data brokers sometimes pay app developers to use their tracking code so they can sell the information, which violates Google's rules.

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