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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

The modern way to hire a big-city police chief

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When it comes to picking a city's top cop, closed-door selection processes have been replaced by highly public exercises where everyone gets to vet the candidates — who must have better community-relations skills than ever.

Why it matters: In the post-George-Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
21 mins ago - Economy & Business

Speculative crypto art market takes off

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

New coronavirus cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections continued their sharp decline over the past week, and are now back down to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

The big picture: Given the U.S.’ experience over the past year, it can be hard to trust anything that looks like good news, without fearing that another shoe is about to drop. But the U.S. really is doing something right lately. Cases are way down, vaccinations are way up, and that’s going to save a lot of lives.