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Photo: Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Tuesday the resignation of its top administrator for "possible improper behavior" after an outlet linked Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill's phone activity to gay bars and the LGBTQ dating app Grindr.

Why it matters: The small Catholic outlet, The Pillar, was able to achieve this by obtaining "anonymized" data from a broker, and having a consulting firm analyze it and link it to the church official — showing how easy and legally this can now be done.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Driving the news: The USCCB issued a statement confirming Burrill's resignation to the National Catholic Reporter just before The Pillar published its report on Burrill, a priest affiliated with the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

  • "A mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities," The Pillar reported.
  • "The data obtained and analyzed by The Pillar conveys mobile app date signals during two 26-week periods, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019 and 2020. The data was obtained from a data vendor and authenticated by an independent data consulting firm contracted by The Pillar."

Context: Catholic doctrine considers sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage a sin.

The big picture: Via the Washington Post, "Privacy experts have long raised concerns about 'anonymized' data collected by apps and sold to or shared with aggregators and marketing companies.

"While the information is typically stripped of obviously identifying fields, like a user’s name or phone number, it can contain everything from age and gender to a device ID. It’s possible for experts to de-anonymize some of this data and connect it to real people."

What they're saying: USCCB spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told WashPost that Burrill had decided to resign, "effective immediately," ahead of the report's publication "to avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work of the Conference."

  • The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and leading advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the Catholic Church, posted a statement to Facebook criticizing the Pillar's report:
  • Burrill and The Pillar could not immediately be reached for comment.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 5 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker