Access to data for sensitive and obscured observations

(sorry - I cannot decide iif this is a forum topic or a message to the page editors, but there are several pages with different editors)

what is a “Sensitive Species”? Do different people have the same idea as to what this means? Perhaps this needs to be defined (i…e data that you obscure and any IUCN Red List species higher than Least Concern, and any species that are defined as threatened in a place)…

" The best way to do this is to create a Traditional project and reach out to the observers, asking them to join your project and add the observation(s) in question to the project. "

  • Do you realize for Elephants in Africa there are 594 observers. Do you really mean that a researcher has to create a project and invite 594 users to join their project (even absent and dead users)?
  • What about conservation researchers and institutions in say Canada or New Zealand or Colo/umbia that want to use the data for conservation planning. Do they really have to contact all their users and then get all their users to manually add all their observations to a conventional Project. e.g.
    Canada: 24000 users will have to manually add 972k observations to a Conserve-Canada project?
    New Zealand: 8993 users will have to manually add 469k observations to a What-threatened-taxa-occur-in-New-Zealand-nature-reserves project?
  • Is there a mechanism in place to stop illegal collectors and poachers (and even data sellers) from creating projects and beguiling innocent users into allowing them access to sensitive data?

(if this is too sensitive a topic, please hide it)

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In the online explanation:

Why the Coordinates Are Obscured
Taxon is threatened, coordinates obscured by default: One of the taxa suggested in the identifications, or one of the taxa that contain any of these taxa, is known to be rare and/or threatened, so the location of this observation has been obscured.

Who Can See the Coordinates
The person who made the observation
Individuals who the observer has trusted with their hidden coordinates

But it does not state that the only way to trust users is (at present) to individually add an observation to a traditional project of which that user is a curator.




If someone just wanted to gather data for Canada or NZ, they could just make a collection project and no one would have to add anything. It would simply be gathered by the electrons at iNat.

I think one of the fundamental problems is this option to block access to Private/Obscured data. I am a curator for a project that has ~75K observations. But there are ~115K eligible observations in iNaturalist. Why are we missing those 40K records? Because of this option to not allow curators to see their obscured/private settings. Yet most of those sightings are not obscured or private, they are open. But because they checked that box, we don’t get their data.

In this day and age of data security and constant news of privacy violations online, it is almost a knee-jerk response when people sign up to check this box without thinking about it. I’ve seen many examples where someone has chosen that setting even though they don’t have any non-open records!




The question of what should be obscured and what happens when something is obscured are two separate ones.

Right now the answer to the first is if it has a conservation status, it is obscured. In some parts of the world the community can agree to turn on or off the obscuring in other places changes arw forbidden. Which leads to the ludicrous situation we have in my home province of the single most observed species in the province being obscured based on threats 5000 kilometers away, yet far less common members of the family which share the same threats in the province here are open.

My primary concern is that no single user should be able to change the obscured status of a species and most importantly no user should have access to any functionality that overrides the obscuring or an observer’s decision to obscure something.

Unless or until inaturalist designs some program to validate credentials and how to staff it etc then the current system should stay.

None of your examples are 100 percent accurate.

A user wanting to do a project would not need to reach out to the owners of all 974000 observations in Canada because a high percentage of them are open not obscured.

Joining a project is not the only way to share obscured locations, it can be done via the trusted users functionality.

If a researcher in Canada wants to do work on elephants they dont need to create their own project. If there already is one, they can ask the admin to be made a co-admin which grants them access or if they will share the data they have access to. Presumably the cohort of elephant researchers is small enough to recognize legitimate members.

If someone right now feels they need the exact location of each of those 594 elephants and there is agreement that elephants should be obscured, then no user should be able to self appoint themselves into a position to overrule that. Period. Full stop. They can decide if the work involved to follow the process to get it is worth it.



Sandboa, you do not mention if your project is a new collection project or an old style. But i am unclear how checking the block access to private coordinates option stops open records from getting into a project.

If it is a collection project there is no functionality that lets users block records from being collected by the project. You cant stop it. Records can be excluded if they hit the obscured rules explained elsewhere on the forum.

If it is an old project, clicking that option should block seeing real coordinates, but in terms of getting the records into the project, it would more likely be a different option the user has selected which is to only allow their records to be added to a project if they do it themselves which is unrelated to any obscuring functionality .



Natureserve Canada is not supposed to keep all of those species obscured. However no one has given us a timeline as to when this problem will be fixed. In the future I think a review of which sensitive species is obscured should occur before obscuring. It doesn’t make sense to blanket obscure thousands of common species at the edge of their range then eventually hopefully undo it.

We have not, and should not, just obscure based on conservation status especially local rather than global status. Many - probably most - of the species with status have no poaching or harassment risk and harm is done by hiding the data from the community.

And more broadly we need a clearly stated policy from above so we don’t invest time in creating and using data only to have it taken away.



But collection projects do not provide access to data hidden for threatened species. Only traditional projects do, and only if the user specifically grants access to the data when joining the project.
So creating a collections project will not work!

or have I misread the situation?



Am I missing something here?
At present “trusted users” are curators of traditional projects for which the user has granted permission when joining the project.
Following which each observation must be individually added to the project for this to apply.



Perhaps not in Canada. But in the Cape Flora with 10,751 species of plant in the Western Cape Province, with some 31% of species with IUCN Red List status, this is a significant proportion of the data. And many users have no idea that they have posted a threatened species even when it is identified and is then automatically obscured (and thus hidden) without their knowledge.



Yes, see Clarifying geoprivacy & reasons for obscured coordinates; user-to-user trust and Your Relationships: (available in your account settings).

If you find something out of date or poorly explained in the help/about/etc pages, you can bring it to the attention of the site staff. Some of them monitor this forum to some extent, but emailing is more direct.

See also:

All observations from users affiliated with a gateway [like or iNaturalistNZ] are shared with the Network Member, meaning they are responsible for stewarding the sensitive location data for coordinates obscured from public view for either user privacy or protected species.

Whether or not this information on the Network page is outdated is unknown by me. I assume those who affiliate directly with rather than one of the gateways do not share their obscured/private data with anyone beyond trusted project curators/trusted users/iNat staff at this time, but that’s just an assumption. @carrieseltzer?

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I dont care if Sir David Attenborough himself signs up for an inaturalist account. If he does, he should not be unilaterally allowed to set aside the obscuring or my decision as to whom I trust to see records I have submitted with obscured locations.

If the site wants to relaunch under a new rule that any sighting you enter may be visible to anyone, and if that is unacceptable then dont enter it, thats their decision to make. But it is not the promise that was made to users using the current system.



ok i am confused. I don’t think it is being considered that obscured data will be shared with anyone (other than obviously the people who run the database who will have to be able to see it by definition) here, right? Only that you can add trusted users? Which i doubt i personally would bother with unless it changes the points on the range map too.



But what about threatened species that you did not obscure? Should he be allowed to see your coordinates for these species?



Perhaps he could request to see those locations from the ones who obscured them – i.e. the iNaturalist administration. That’s not functionally different than requesting locations from an individual observer who chose to obscure their observations.



Not quite true.
iNaturalist staff follow a policy. The “decision” to obscure is based on the Red List. The actual staff have no say in the decision, this is an automatic process.

Arguably, the communities - the countries making the IUCN Red List Assessment - should be the ones to decide, where such a community exists on iNat.
Should Admin Staff in America decide whether to provide this data for threatened New Zealand endemic species?

One way around this would be to create a “trust relationship” for community curators for each community, and have the default for this set to “trust with coordinates”.



This is already the process for Canada.

And at this point, any curator anywhere in the world can choose to unobscure an IUCN Red List species that is not at risk of poaching/trampling/harassment based on iNat observations being public.



No. Not without my permission. Those were entered under the assumption the inat obscuring process would protect those coordinates and that no manual obscuring was required.



I know. That really bothers me!
Very open to corruption!



this isn’t true, or hasn’t been the case, and if such a large change was made, i would hope the staff would at least tell the community. The obscuring is supposed to address issues of poaching or harassment, not blanket hide data of anything that is uncommon in a given area, which is super counterproductive.

Agreed, but who is the community? Is it a bunch of iNat users from there? A mainstream conservation association? A state entity? Park staff? There are potential issues with any decision.

This is getting confusing, can we all quote what we are responding to?



From what? Conservation agencies tasked with conservation?