iNat apprehension from land managers

I recently attended a botanical trip with the purpose of collecting herbarium specimens in an area that has been historically under collected. It was often celebrated from the group and land managers that a wonderful thing was happening by conducting this bio-blitz, as the records we were creating will fill a “black hole” in our collective knowledge.

As someone who enjoys contributing to iNaturalist, I was excited to also participate in the bio-blitz through the platform. However, I was asked not to publish any of my observations, at least for now, as there is concern about potential trespassing issues.

I am very glad this occurrence data will be out in the world through herbarium records but am confused why iNaturalist data should be excluded. Both will be publicly available to anyone who cares to look and the inclusion of photos only adds to the dataset.

Has anyone else encountered similar sentiments? Are land managers weary because iNaturalist has a broader general audience? Or is this some early growing pains while we figure out what this platform means to the larger conservation community?

Would be curious to hear what you all think.

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There are ways to preserve geoprivacy easily, the main method being to “obscure” your location. This can be done while you are making the observation - the coordinates are preserved, but only you can see them. https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/geoprivacy

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I’ve encountered it and to be honest it used to be worse from what I’ve experienced. But it’s a good idea to obscure (and tell people you did) when on private property or somewhere else people can’t go. But mostly it’s just paranoia and tech phobia. People don’t realize how valuable it is.

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I’ve done a number of observations on private land and I’ll always ask permission from the person I’m with there if I can post and I tell them that I will obscure the location. I’ll either obscure it with the obscure function or if the land I was on is bigger than obscuring it I’ll draw a giant circle with the accuracy function. Haven’t encountered any problems so far.

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I have also experienced this to some extent. It seems rather short-sighted considering that the people who don’t want scientific data from their land published publicly will probably then create a post on Facebook telling others that they’re going on vacation or what not. Anyway, obscuring the observation and telling the land owner / manager what that means seems to be the best practice in such situations.

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if geoprivacy is a true concern, i would not post observations to iNaturalist either, even using the obscured geoprivacy option. there’s always the chance that privacy / security can potentially be defeated one way or another in online systems, and no offense to iNaturalist’s small staff, but I wouldn’t expect the staff to be able to protect privacy / security like some larger organization might be able to (and even then, larger organizations often fail at that).

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You mean like Google? ;)

I agree with the other poster about many folks being all over the map consistency-wise as far as data privacy. But if we’re trying to remain on good terms with private landowners and maybe even get them on board logging/sharing some data, you have to sometimes a person where they’re at–as inconsistent/irrational as that place might be. Explaining and being willing to obscure locations in the way rynaturalist and others describes seems a reasonable way to do that. More than a few of these folks might have also seen some pics/headlines from the CA poppy bloom/social media craziness and rightly want to avoid being part of that kind of circus.

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I can understand some of the apprehension. I feel okay posting sightings from my house and neighborhood with obscured geodata because I live in a city and it’s no longer clear exactly which house I live in. However, if I wanted to share a sighting from, say, my parents’ house in the country on a larger plot of land, the obscured geodata still places the sighting on their property, because the radius of obscurity is smaller than the plot of land. It’s just not a great feeling, knowing there are timestamped logs and photos of your property available to any stalker or burglar who knows where to look. iNat is much more accessible than herbarium records. Or even just other naturalists- perhaps a landowner is fine with the one person who asked walking around their property and logging sightings, but they don’t want another 20 wandering their land uninvited, assuming it’s fine.

Personally, I’m not worried about naturalists wanting to know exactly where I saw that phlox or dragonfly or bird nest. What I am worried about are people being able to track where I am and when. I can just obscure my data when I’m at home and feel relatively safe but when I’m on larger plots of land I feel like it’s not safe to post sightings until I’m long gone, and I try to make sure there’s no photos of buildings, vehicles, or people in those photos to indicate when people are on the property.

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i guess “relative” is the key word here. i personally would treat any observation that has obscured geoprivacy applied as essentially an observation with open geoprivacy in the hands of someone who really wants to figure out where the observation occurred. nothing online is totally private or safe.

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It’s interesting, because yes, I think iNat observations might potentially get some other iNatters turning up to get observations for their lifelists etc, but there is the spinoff to that in that iNatters are generally responsible “tread lightly” protagonists.

I look at the dunes here in NZ where our katipo have such a narrow habitat to exist in, and I think to myself, do I really want to see dozens of people traipsing through there? Fact of the matter is, there are! And the majority of them are NOT tread lightly types, so having more iNatters there to have conversations and change hearts and minds would be an awesome thing. Every time I go there, I have at least one conversation with a member of the public, usually someone curious as to why I am rummaging through the spinifex. I like to focus on how much they enjoy riding their motorbikes through the dunes, and gently raise the fact that they can DO that, and still be mindful of the katipo and stick to the existing trails through the dunes, rather than hitting the areas of spinifex that the katipo live in. And if we do what we do AND look after the environment, then no-one will need to stop anybody doing what they love doing! Once they realise you are not there to destroy their fun, they really do take an interest and start to value the habitat as well.

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I’ve never actually heard of someone going somewhere to find someone else’s inat observations. Does that happen? I know people chase weird birds on ebird.

You’ve got a huge parcel of land if it takes up the obscuring rectangle but such places do exist like ranches in the western US or Australia.

As much as I love inat there’s some things I’ll never post here. Or anywhere else on the internet.

Yes, I do, once in a while. One that comes to mind is an orchid someone saw in a state park that is 50 miles away and posted on iNat. I had never seen it. I went the next day. Another is a White-winged Scoter hanging around in the water at a local fish hatchery. It had been there for a couple of months but I had not noticed the postings. When I did notice, I went the next morning, since I had never seen one of those except for maybe as a black dot in the sky over the ocean. But I wouldn’t do it on private property.

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I will always obscure my own obs on my own piece of land as I don’t want people wandering through the bush as there are vulnerable plants here as well as undescribed flora and fauna.

I don’t put up obs from another place as it is a kiwi zone and also because of the fear of kauri dieback getting into it if outsiders go wandering through without proper precaution protocols to ensure pathogens are not brought into the area.

There are also certain critters that I never post up, as they are undescribed and I am paranoid about smugglers coming in to take them as has happened in the past.

If I am in an area and I see a nationally critical plant I don’t put that obs up with all of the others. I wait a while, then strip out all of the data from the photo including the date so no one can work out where I was when I photographed it. When I put it up, I pick a random date, do a huge circle covering 100’s square miles put the place name as the region and obscure it. If any of the scientific community want to know where I found it they can contact me personally - which has happened. So this way, I am protecting flora on the verge of extinction, but still allowing for the fact it has been sighted to be recorded.

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I do this all the time, actually. If I want to see a certain wildflower or mushroom I’ll hunt it down, or at least the region, using observations. And that does give me some trepidation because since I can (and DO) do that, someone who’s interested in seed/plant harvesting or mushroom sales could do the same. People don’t mess around when it comes to matsutakes around here, for example.

And as far as trespassing goes, in the Western US it can be really hard to know when/if you’re trespassing. There’re vast swathes of privately owned land sometimes woven through BLM land and it’s not always obviously delineated. I suspect at least some of my observations will have accidentally been made while trespassing. I know a “trail” that is widely used here for dog-walking, that I go on a lot, is technically railroad land. So while I wouldn’t cross someone’s fence or a visible property boundary, it’s sometimes hard to otherwise tell.

Also, frankly, most private ownership here is railroad or timber. And if there’s something of interest from a botanical or ecological perspective on their land, I strongly suspect they would do their best to suppress that information. I like the idea that amateur naturalists might catch a vulnerable species record that could be suppressed.

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In addition to obscuring location, there are other ways to protect location privacy.
You can turn off location tracking on your phone, so an image is not linked to location, as google and apple tend to do by default.
Also, while convenient to upload an image straight to inaturalist during outings, you can upload to the app afterwards.I do this unless bioblitzes require location data,
If you’re still concerned about location tracking, you can also have your phone, (if that’s what you use) on airplane mode.
Location sharing is much less of a concern if you’re using older SLRs.

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well, there isn’t a ton of point to posting stuff without any location on here, you won’t get any IDs probably, or research grade. You can do private locations, but that also is questionable in value and doesn’t get many IDs. I guess you can post things without any location for your life list, or for your own records. It’s not specifically disallowed or anything. I’ve also used iNat lists with nondescript location description or even plot number to keep track of species lists on private land where i didn’t want to do inaturalist. But in the end, since the data doesn’t go into the database, can’t use fields or annotations, add to species list, etc, i lost interest in doing it and stopped.

There are a lot of different issues mixed in together here. I don’t add things on private property that is posted no trespassing or where i think the landowner doesn’t want it (Vermont is different than most parts of the US where if it’s not posted you can go on the land, though I still am more cautious about how I use iNat) The honest truth is i don’t really love how property law in the US works, but i care about my neighbors and people who own natural habitat here so i tend to obscure for that reason except when landowners don’t want me to (some have asked me not to for various reasons, mostly because it’s a pain for THEM to be able to see it, or they have nature reserves formal or informal on their land and want to show off their biodiversity).

There’s a totally different issue in that some ‘old school’ conservation types think we should just hide everything and only the in-group ‘experts’ should know where it is. I’ve even been told by people in the conservation/management field before that they don’t think ‘ordinary people’ or ‘the public’ should be allowed to view public non- threatened biodiversity data from public lands in the United States. (even though it’s literally legally public info and can be FOIAd to get the info). Without going into a whole long rant here again, i will just say i strongly disagree with that approach and i think it’s a relict of an older method of conservation which has failed badly to prevent the current ongoing biodiversity crisis.

Then there’s just ‘secret spots’. I’ve got some secret spots that i won’t post any location data of any sort for on the Internet and I’ve also had others show me their secret spots which i also didn’t post anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with that. We should have spots like that in the world, and one way or another we always will.

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You’ve got a huge parcel of land if it takes up the obscuring rectangle but such places do exist like ranches in the western US or Australia.

My parents live on 10 acres and every sighting I’ve shared to iNaturalist from their land still displays their address with the address obscured. It’s frustrating, because they have a lot of interesting wildlife compared to usual haunts, but I would hate to make them more vulnerable to burglary or trespassing by accidentally mapping their property and/or documenting their schedules through iNat observations.

And yeah, I’m well aware that I probably sound a bit paranoid, but burglars aren’t idiots and rural homes are very vulnerable to burglary. I don’t need to make it easier for them, you know?

(by the by, I live on a tiny lot in my city, but even my obscured addresses usually just show one of the houses next door, or a couple houses down. I get the impression the radius isn’t huge. Do we know the hard numbers for how big it actually is?)

I’m pretty sure the address won’t display to anyone else other than you. Try looking when not logged in. If it is still displaying… that’s a bug and shouldn’t be happening. Unless you are yourself writing the address in somehow maybe?

The obscuring happens in a grid. I think it’s about 10km but others will know for sure.

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I like to see what some people are seeing, especially the really strange stuff that I have never seen before.

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I really don’t think iNaturalist observation data is a big target for hackers. Yes, systems are compromised all the time, but those are systems that contain financially valuable data. If someone really wants to find out where to locate a Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, there are much easier methods than trying to hack iNaturalist. Personally, I think the obscure feature works fine and I’m satisfied with the level of privacy it provides.

And FWIW, the size of the obscuring rectangle averages about 125,000 acres (or 1/6th the size of Rhode Island). Are y’all really hanging out on private lots bigger than that?

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