Dec 25, 2019

America's data treasure trove

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An exposé for New York Times Opinion out in December called "One Nation, Tracked," by Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel, walks readers through how they mined a data file of 50 billion location pings from the cellphones of 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including D.C., New York, San Francisco and L.A.

Why it matters: Supposedly anonymous data isn't always all that anonymous.

  • The series image shows the pings from a single smartphone over several months in 2016 and 2017.
  • "Connecting those pings reveals a diary of the person’s life," the authors write.

"Watching dots move across a map sometimes revealed hints of faltering marriages, evidence of drug addiction, records of visits to psychological facilities."

"The data was provided ... by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so," The Times reports.

  • "The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers."

Go deeper... Axios Deep Dive: Data Privacy

Go deeper

Trump hits back at Mattis: "I gave him a new life"

President Trump speaks at the White House. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump unloaded on his former defense secretary via Twitter on Wednesday, hours after James Mattis condemned him for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in his response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

What he's saying: "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'"

Obama praises young protesters, urges mayors to pursue police reforms

Former President Barack Obama called on all mayors to review their use-of-force policies and commit to policing reform in a virtual town hall Wednesday hosted by the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keepers Alliance.

Why it matters: Obama has addressed the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed on social media and in a Medium post, but this was his first time speaking about the past week's events on camera. His voice will add weight to the growing pressure on local, state and federal officials to pursue policing reforms.

James Mattis condemns Trump as a threat to the Constitution

Mattis on Fox in Septemnber 2019 in New York City. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis condemned President Trump for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in a statement to The Atlantic on Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" at the president's response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Why it matters: Trump’s former defense secretary had refrained from publicly criticizing his former boss since resigning in 2018.