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SafeGraph, a startup using AI to create and maintain mobility datasets, today announced that it raised $45 million in funding led by Sapphire Ventures. With the investment, SafeGraph plans to capitalize on the expanding international market of data buyers and offer new ways for companies to buy data through its network.
Location data is fast-becoming a hot commodity. In May 2019, 94% of mobile marketers in the U.S. surveyed by Statista said they were already using location data for advertising purposes, while 94% indicated that they were planning to do so in the future. While more users worldwide are refusing to share location data with apps, marketers say the data is incredibly valuable for targeting purposes and personalizing customer experiences.
SafeGraph, which was founded in 2016 by former LiveRamp CEO Auren Hoffman, provides a places dataset that includes information about over 6,400,000 physical locations in the U.S. and Canada, with a U.K. launch planned for April 2021. SafeGraph customers gain access not only to location information, but spatial hierarchy metadata and place traffic data.
Drawing on data from mobile devices, satellites, and “thousands” of other sources, SafeGraph offers foot traffic insights for places as well as corporate and retail footprints. The company uses machine learning and human feedback to associate business listing info with the footprints and algorithmically classify over 5,500 brands, updating the data monthly to account for store openings and closings.
SafeGraph says its datasets are used by financial services, real estate, and advertising companies like Sysco, Ares Management, and Choice Hotels for viewing shopper demographics, comparing marketing campaign performance, and risk management underwriting. Clients engaged in retail site selection can see which day of the week a census block group — the most granular level of reporting conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau — is busiest and from where people stopping during breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours are traveling, among other details. SafeGraph also hosts a community of more than 7,000 data scientists who collaborate on various geospatial projects.
The global location intelligence market size is expected to reach $32.8 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research. In spite of competition from companies including AirSage, Factual, Cuebiq, and Matrixian Group, SafeGraph says it doubled its year-over-year revenue while improving efficiency metrics such as revenue per employee.
But location analytics solutions have drawn increased scrutiny as regulators take a hard look at the data vendors are collecting. Using datasets from Fysical and SafeGraph, The New York Times managed to track the movements of former President Trump during the 2017 presidential inauguration. More recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and IRS announced they would audit their own use of location data after it was revealed that the agencies were purchasing cellphone location data from commercial sources.
Above: SafeGraph says its COVID-19 Data Consortium lets the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and others analyze the coronavirus’ impact.
Debates about location-tracking capabilities have also come to the fore as countries around the world adopt contact-tracing apps to control the spread of coronavirus. In May, North Dakota said that its smartphone app, Care19, had been sending users’ location data to the digital marketing service Foursquare, an issue which the state’s app developer later fixed. A U.S. law proposed last year — COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act — would’ve required companies to obtain consent from users to collect, process, or transfer personal health, geolocation, proximity, or device data for contact tracing.
For its part, SafeGraph notes that users can opt out from having their location data used for its services and that it deletes data from providers in countries under the jurisdiction of the GDPR. The company also claims to anonymize information such that it can’t know users’ precise home addresses or places of work — at least not without cross-referencing SafeGraph’s data with public records and pinpointing devices that regularly spend time at a location.
“What stands out about SafeGraph is how they’ve been able to quickly position themselves into a major player in the geospatial data industry,” Cathy Gao, partner at Sapphire Ventures, said in a press release. “By singularly focusing on providing the highest-quality places data to data science teams, they’ve earned the trust of some of the largest public and private institutions. The efficient growth to-date is a strong indicator of where we think the company is going and Auren’s track record of building consequential data businesses speaks for itself.”
Alex Rosen of Ridge Ventures, DNX Ventures, and Peter Thiel also participated in SafeGraph’s latest funding round. It brings the company’s total raised to date to over $60 million following a $16 million series A in April 2017.
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