How ad tech data was used to oust a senior Catholic cleric, and how most anyone can do the same
"The world would be a happier place if people embraced epistemic humility, and didn’t comment publicly around things they know little or nothing about. "
Took me a couple decades to figure that out.
I was working for a geospatial data company and we could do things like this all the time. At that time you could set up a server to pick up almost all the geo-tagged twitter data for free (it was bout 2-3% of the firehose). You would see geo-tagged tweets in one city and the user would pop up in another and you could put him on the exact plane they were on. Its really simple stuff if you have the data.
As for mapping across platforms, in another project I was able to map users who had filled in surveys in one theme park and see them go to another theme park during their stay in<state redacted>. I was mapping name-anonymized in-park data to super shitty cell-phone pings to their travels to other venues in <state redacted>, all without ever knowing their names, using data from two completely different vendors with different ID's. (The cell data even rotated their numbers every month, but . . . come on!!!) Even in a busy theme park with densities as high as most cities, you only needed a few cellphone pings to connect them across platforms. We mapped one group all the way to their flights coming and going, along with their shameful trip to Seaworld.
As for the priest who got caught, there are many motivations:
Looking for pedophile priests, as per the 2004 John Jay report, the frequency of actual pedophile priests in the priest population is about the same as the rest of population. Most of the cases of abuse was done by openly or not so open homosexual priests, who used the cover of their church to commit various degrees of sexual abuse on teenage and older people. So they are a fair target. These are people who have forsworn their 'right to privacy' and they should be held to that standard even if they stay within the ever-widening bounds of the law, while they remain priests, not by legal authority but certainly by their parishioners.
On a personal level, this is a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and you wish that priest had come to his senses all by himself, but one should not minimize the damage that priests who were acting like him did throughout the sexual abuse crisis. A climate of corruption spreads the bounds of acceptable behavior in any institution or society, allowing far graver sins to fluorish.
I understand how all of the data was gathered and filtered, but I have one question. Had Burrill not used the app while at the church, or a place which could identify him as a priest...would the investigator been able to realize who he is? Seems like Burrill's cardinal sin (npi) was using the app in places where he'd be expected to (what's going on during mass?!?). Altho, I suppose, just getting in your car outside church and checking your app triggers it...he'd have been better to use it elsewhere, which makes you think...just find a target location and over time search who's pinging from there and for what.
Great piece. The case study is interesting, but all the underlying bits are fascinating.
*Se non è vero, è ben trovato*.
It would certainly be fun to see this story make waves, if only for the irony of Twitter and Grindr getting ricochet damage from an intra-Catholic affray. (Although Twitter will probably not feel much hurt, but I imagine Grindr users tend to be more privacy-aware.) Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition :)