Allowing Local Area Projects to Import Observations from Around the World without either the observer including that observation in that Project, or the observer giving any other consent, undermines the “Project” System

I found a “project” called Island County, WA Organisms, created July, 13, 2018, that has freely added observations to the project, without either the observer having listed the observation as included in the project, nor the observer having given any other consent to have their observations added to the project. It now lists over 719,000 observations, from all over Washington State, most of them not in Island County, or in the broader “Puget Sound” area the project refers to, and invites observations from. I checked with one of the observers, and my asking about it was the first he learned that his observations, that weren’t even in Island County, were included in the project.

The administrator, “nafod” aka “SNM”, hasn’t made an iNaturalist observation for over a year, though he did make an identification a month and a half ago. The project has a vague delineation. First it says its name seems to indicate that it is for observations within Island County, Washington, then it describes its location as being in Island County, and 2 adjacent counties, San Juan, and Skagit Counties, then it wants observers to add observations from throughout the “Puget Sound”, then it wants people to include captive, and cultivated plants.

My current theory is that it was created by a young man (or could be a woman) who was enchanted by the idea of getting the most observations of the most species for his project, in his area that started with Island County, then expanded to 3 counties, then to the larger Puget Sound, then the whole state of Washington, not clearly mentioned in the project page.

I found a tab of the observations pages, as either map, grid, or list, to the upper right of the map, grid, or list, labelled “export observations”. I don’t quite know what it means, but I had to wonder if the administrator clicked on something to export some large number of observations from within Washington State into his project. It is hard to know how much the administrator knew what he was doing when clicking on all of the choices when setting up he project.

I then assume anyone administering a project on iNaturalist has the ability to do the same, putting a substantial flaw in the whole “project” system.

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Step 1: Go to https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/island-county-wa-organisms?tab=observations&subtab=table

Step 2: Read the description.

Step 3:Check their map of observations

It looks like the project is working as it is set up - it automatically displays observations throughout Washington. The project badge will only display on people’s observations if they have decided to join the project. You’re right that anyone could make a project that is incorrectly named/set up, but it’s up to others whether they want to join them.

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Should someone be able to set up a project, nominally for one county, or one area immediately around that county, then import observations from around the state, when the people who made the observations never indicated they were including that observation in that project?

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Projects effectively work this way.

The newish ‘Collection Type’ are basically saved searches. For security they exclude most obscured observations.

The older projects where records are manually added, users may configure their account to not allow it, and must opt in to allowing access to actual locations of obscured records.

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Kind of a more philosophical question, but yes, I believe anyone should be able to set up collection projects, which are essentially saved filters (“show all observations that meet these criteria”). Sometimes they are just tests or people make mistakes with setting them up. Observations aren’t manually added to these kinds of projects and users cannot choose to opt out except by messaging/asking the project admin directly.

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The category of a “collection project” is not one I had known of before. It still seems sloppy iNaturalist allows people to set up a project nominally for one area, then allows them to collect observations from wholly different areas, under that name.

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Only the user who set up the project can answer if they truly wish the project to be for the entire state, which is perfectly allowed and have made a mistake in the project name, or have made a mistake in their definition of the project rules by including the whole state.

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I now see that the administrator could have added “Washington State” one too many times, when delineating it as being in " Washington, US, Island County, US, WA, San Juan County, US, WA, Skagit County, US, WA ", with the first “Washington, US” not specifying a county.

I’m fine with my observations being added to collection projects without my consent. When I started, I clicked that option, and I’m still fine with it. I’m happy if they can be useful to others.

This project seems to have been set up kind of sloppily, but that’s a different question, to me.

Collection projects certainly have their place, but some some purposes I’m much happier to use traditional projects. That’s the only way to go for classroom projects, I think.

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I probably wouldn’t have reacted to the people being included without specifying they were adding that observation to the project, if it didn’t also have observations from all over Washington, when it was framed as a project to be for Island County, or maybe even “Puget Sound”. I also found one member that continued to say his observation was to be included in the Island County project, when his observation was made on the other side of the state. As I alluded to in my last comment, it appears that the administrator included “Washington State” one more time than he might have intended to, for the result he got.

I have sent the administrator this message:
nafod,

You have a project called “Island County, WA Organisms” but observations from all of Washington State are being added to it. If you want it to be for organisms for Island County, or even the Island County, San Juan County, and Skagit County area, as your project location seems to indicate, you may want to delete the first “Washington, US”, in your location which is listed as: “Washington, US, Island County, US, WA, San Juan County, US, WA, Skagit County, US, WA”, because that first “Washington, US” is linked to this web address: https://www.inaturalist.org/places/46 That is all of Washington State. This may be why the observations from all of Washington State are being added to it.

-Stewart

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