Mobilewalla Used Cellphone Data To Estimate the Demographics of Protesters


    An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: On the weekend of May 29, thousands of people marched, sang, grieved, and chanted, demanding an end to police brutality and the defunding of police departments in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They marched en masse in cities like Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, empowered by their number and the assumed anonymity of the crowd. And they did so completely unaware that a tech company was using location data harvested from their cellphones to predict their race, age, and gender and where they lived. Just over two weeks later, that company, Mobilewalla, released a report titled “George Floyd Protester Demographics: Insights Across 4 Major US Cities.” In 60 pie charts, the document details what percentage of protesters the company believes were male or female, young adult (18-34); middle-aged 3554, or older (55+); and “African-American,” “Caucasian/Others,” “Hispanic,” or “Asian-American.” “African American males made up the majority of protesters in the four observed cities vs. females,” Mobilewalla claimed. “Men vs. women in Atlanta (61% vs. 39%), in Los Angeles (65% vs. 35%), in Minneapolis (54% vs. 46%) and in New York (59% vs. 41%).” The company analyzed data from 16,902 devices at protests — including exactly 8,152 devices in New York, 4,527 in Los Angeles, 2,357 in Minneapolis, and 1,866 in Atlanta. It’s unclear how accurate Mobilewalla’s analysis actually is. But Mobilewalla’s report is another revelation from a wild west of obscure companies with untold amounts of sensitive information about individuals — including where they go and what their political allegiances may be. There are no federal laws in place to prevent this information from being abused. Mobilewalla’s privacy policy says that people have the right to opt out of certain uses of their personal information. But it also says, “Even if you opt out, we, our Clients and third parties may still collect and use information regarding your activities on the Services, Properties, websites and/or applications and/or information from advertisements for other legal purposes as described herein.” Mobilewalla CEO Anindya Datta said the company didn’t prepare the report for law enforcement or a public agency, but rather to satisfy its own employees’ curiosity about what its vast trove of unregulated data could reveal about the demonstrators. He added that the company doesn’t plan to include information about whether a person attended a protest to its clients, or to law enforcement agencies. Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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