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CDC secretly tracked our phones to monitor COVID-19 lockdowns

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) obviously played a major role during the pandemic and lockdowns for COVID-19. The agency also paid almost half a million dollars for tracking data to monitor people’s locations during lockdown procedures.

An interesting new article has come out from VICE revealing how the CDC uses location data from millions of phones in America. The agency has mostly been using the data to monitor lockdown procedures, but internal documents also list non-COVID-related uses for the data.

The publication obtained internal documents from the CDC through a Freedom of Information Act request. And what it found was a list of 21 different use cases for location data that the CDC had purchased last year.

cdc covid tracking data
Image: VICE

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The agency purchased the aggregated data from SafeGraph, a company specializing in harvesting and selling location data, for $420,000.

Ironically, SafeGraph pledged to offer its location data free to government agencies starting back in April of 2020. But apparently, the company changed its mind a year later and charged the CDC nearly half a million dollars for access to the data for a year.

cdc covid tracking data
Image: VICE

Of course, the majority of use cases that the CDC listed for the data involve COVID-19. The uses include practices like tracking mobility patterns, such as the start of school, house of worship attendance, and mass gathering events in correlation with rising COVID-19 cases.

But there are also potential uses listed that have no relation to COVID-19 at all. One use involved tracking environmental exposure in relation to outcomes like asthma. Another talks about tracking physical activity at places like parks or gyms.

At this point, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. This kind of data will have been extremely useful to the CDC to study the effects of the pandemic.

And its uses don’t stop there. Chances are, the CDC will subscribe to SafeGraph’s data troves for the foreseeable future.

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