The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday announced the resignation of its top administrator for “possible inappropriate behavior“after a point of sale linked Bishop Jeffrey Burrill’s phone activity to gay bars and the LGBTQ dating app Grindr.
Why is this important: 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 leader – showing how easily and legally this can now be done.
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Driving the news: The USCCB released a statement confirming Burrill’s resignation to the National Catholic Reporter just before The Pillar released its report on Burrill, a priest affiliated with the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
- A mobile device correlated to Burrill sent app data signals from the location-based connection app Grindr almost daily during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 – both in his office at the USCCB and at his USCCB-owned residence, as well as at USCCB meetings and events in other cities, ”The Pillar reported.
- “The data obtained and analyzed by The Pillar transmits mobile application date signals for two periods of 26 weeks, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019 and 2020. The data was obtained from a data provider and authenticated by an independent data consulting firm hired by the pillar. “
The context: Catholic doctrine considers sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage to be a sin.
The big picture: Via the Washington Post, “Privacy experts have long voiced concerns about the ‘anonymized’ data collected by apps and sold or shared with aggregators and marketing companies.
“While the information usually lacks obvious identifying fields, like a user’s name or phone number, it can contain anything from age and gender to a device ID. for experts to de-anonymize some of this data and connect it to real people. “
What they say : USCCB spokesman Chieko Noguchi told WashPost that Burrill had decided to step down, “with immediate effect”, before the report was released “to avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and work in progress. the conference”.
- The Reverend James Martin, a Jesuit priest and leading advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the Catholic Church, posted a statement on Facebook criticizing the Pillar report:
- Burrill and The Pillar could not be reached immediately for comment.