Criteria for default geo-privacy

Your assumptions are generally correct for U.S. states, but as @cmcheatle notes the criteria and processes are not consistent across all states. (There is early discussion within NatureServe about trying to improve that situation.)

I have seen the occasional enthusiast in a state try to add all of their available S-ranks as conservation statuses, including some S4 and S5 ranks, and apparently not notice that the geoprivacy for newly added conservation ranks always defaults to obscured unless one changes it while creating the status entry.

Many other states have not entered any of their S ranks, and many others (including mine) fall somewhere in between, mainly having entered new ones as specific obscuring needs arose.

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Well, I suppose if there were no answers to this question, we could just obscure every observation on iNat to 22x22 km. And for highly mobile animals, that might not be a huge issue. But for plants and other less-mobile organisms, exact locations make the data much more valuable scientifically, and the vast majority of such organisms (with notable exceptions which we do obscure) are not going to be the target of collectors or trappers. A couple of uses off the top of my head:

  • Species distribution modeling (computer prediction of where species are likely to occur but haven’t yet been documented, under both current and future climate scenarios). As you note, many areas of the world (including my entire state) have highly variable topography and ecology over distances much shorter than 22 km. Data more fuzzy than a few 10s of meters would be pretty useless for this purpose.

  • For rare species that are not targets for collection or harassment, precise coordinates of new locations help land managers, conservationists, and scientists quickly identify the specific parcels of land that need to be prioritized for further study and conservation. It’s probably different in smaller states, but in Nevada we have much more area to monitor than professionals paid to cover it all. So the contributors to iNat have been a huge help in identifying new locations for some of our species of conservation concern so that we can start monitoring them, and also in monitoring the status of previously known locations.

[EDIT: I should add, it is entirely the decision of each observer on iNat whether to obscure any or all of their observations, and there are many valid reasons for making that choice. All I am addressing here is that, where it is possible and prudent not to obscure, there is greater scientific and conservation value in the resulting data.]

is relevant here, because government authorities can’t protect a rare species in places where they are not aware that it has been found. So while iNat can’t remediate poor bureaucratic processes of governments, it can (and has done in my state, at least) be a source of valuable additional information for good processes to act upon.

  • I know @charlie has been using precise location data of iNat observations for his work, in case he cares to elaborate further here…

See :

Could most of these studies have still been accomplished via “standard professional methods”? Probably not as quickly, cheaply, or completely in most cases, and in some cases possibly not at all if iNat data provided the primary opportunity for initiating the study.


Could you please link any resources to read about such lists of species with undisclosed location? Never heard about that.

Are you talking about government lists requiring that certain locations not be revealed?

I would have to research to find all the details.

Estonia has one, you can read about it and see details here

I believe Lithuania has one, Norway and Iceland have one, at least one Australian state (Queensland) has one, but I don’t know the legal requirements it enforces etc.

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Yeah, anything with info about it or just lists!
Thank you for the link!

Any thoughts on this? It would seem to be a reasonable argument that precautionary geo-privacy for locally rare species would not be objectionable, so long as qualified individuals have access to pertinent information on a need-to-know basis. The protocol could be (1) adopt a standard whereby people with legitimate research and conservation credentials are identified; (2) allow them access to information same as curators; (3) provide default geo-privacy to all SX-S3 taxa; (4) generally “open” info for SX-S3 taxa when it can be demonstrated (or persuasively argued) that it’s safe to do so.

Not sure where you got the thought from, but curators can not see the actual locations of obscured stuff either.

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I thought curators were the ones who can make the decision to obscure (aside from obscuring decisions made by the individuals who post).

Or is it that, once an “obscure” has been made, regardless of who makes the “obscure” curators can no longer see the location information? If that’s the case, then, presumably, somebody can still retrieve that location data? If so, who? Sorry, these are, probably basic bits of information that INat users are familiar with, and I’m just learning the ropes.

They do make that decision, but once applied, the obscuring applies to them as well.

The site has previously said with regards to this and other issues where it has come up that they do not have capacity to validate claims by users of position, qualifications, expertise etc.

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  • the 9 (I believe) site employees
  • the observer themselves
  • any user the observer has designated as a trusted friend
  • any project admin of a traditional project the record is added to but only if the observer grants permission

Edit - should add that affiliation of your account with certain national network nodes also gives the data to partners of that node, but I assume that is nation specific and I don’t know the details of what if any arrangements exist with each national node.


That raises the question, is this necessarily a permanent condition, or is it not possible, considering the issues raised above, that we could design a remedy for this lack of capacity?