Obscured Data Sharing by iNat.ca

I am hoping an iNaturalist.ca site administrator can please provide clarification on the following statement posted at https://inaturalist.ca/pages/getting-started-inaturalist-canada#species:

" Obscured Data Sharing

The iNaturalist Canada Steering Committee member organizations are provided access to the accurate location of species that are automatically obscured (those that are subject to persecution and harm as talked about above). They are also provided access to the accurate location of observations which the user has specified as obscured or private if the user is affiliated with iNaturalist Canada; this facilitates the use of iNaturalist data for research, conservation, and management."

Am I understanding correctly that iNat.ca will be - or is already - overriding user-applied geoprivacy settings to provide exact sighting locations to the “iNaturalist Canada Steering Committee member organizations?” If yes, could someone please indicate where that practice is disclosed in the site’s terms of service or privacy policy, and when/how I gave informed consent to have my obscured/private co-ordinates released?

Thank you.

No, your account is currently affiliated with iNaturalist, not iNaturalist.ca. That means that the only data shared with iNaturalist.ca and its steering committee organizations is

as long as you haven’t also applied any user-selected geoprivacy.


Thank you for your quick response, @carrieseltzer. My account had always been affiliated with iNaturalist.ca until I read that statement yesterday, at which point I changed my settings. As long as I can opt out of obscured data sharing that way, it’s all good.

1 Like

Wow, that’s kinda creepy. I’m not affiliated with inaturalist.ca, but I wonder how many users are unaware of that aspect of choosing that affiliation. Definitely a reason to consider your affiliation carefully.


Can you please clarify why the sharing includes private records ? I can deal with obscured stuff, but private when intentionally applied almost always means private property that they want protected.

Network member organizations each sign a legal agreement with the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that conveys their responsibility to appropriately steward, protect, and selectively share the data entrusted to them. As the primary public-facing entities associated with each site, we think it is appropriate that they have access to the coordinates shared by people affiliated with their site to help them best protect biodiversity in their countries.

We’ve tried to be very transparent about this particular kind of data sharing by creating a translatable page specifically about network affiliation that you are directed to “learn more” if you see an affiliation prompt (to see what it looks like, log into a network site you aren’t affiliated with, if you haven’t previously dismissed an affiliation prompt). It’s also noted on the main page about the network, and in account settings where you can choose your affiliation.

In the event that the network member wants to leave the iNaturalist Network to create an independent site, data from affiliated users would go with them (after a notification period about the departure) so that they could set up independently with their users’ data.


I do find this somewhat concerning (and have never switched my affiliation to iNaturalist.ca as a result). I don’t think most Ontario iNat users with their affiliation set to .ca are aware that all their obscured data is being passed to the NHIC, a government agency (at least in principle, I don’t know to what degree this is actually happening). Maybe most people are fine with that, I don’t know. If you create an account on iNaturalist.ca, there is no prompt/acknowledgement explaining this. The page does come up after you finish creating the account, but if you click away from that without reading it I don’t think you will ever really have any reason to see this information again. And it’s certainly not presented as something you may be uncomfortable with or with an explanation of how to avoid it. And it runs kind of contrary to how most of the documentation for iNat talks about geoprivacy.

It’s also kind of weird… there is already a way by which organisations can get access to obscured coordinates with permission, via projects (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/nhic-rare-species-of-ontario). It’s not perfect… but ultimately it gives way more power to the user to give informed consent. You get notes on your dashboard whenever they e.g. change the project admins. Why does this other back-end way need to exist?

1 Like

When we launched iNaturalist Canada in 2015, we intentionally partnered with NatureServe Canada for the very reason to help make the citizen science data more valuable for species conservation and with a particular focus on species at risk conservation. The Conservation Data Centres’ are affiliated with NatureServe Canada, with a mandate to track and manage rare species and enable the assessment of their status in Canada.
I’m fully in support of people choosing to keep certain observations from being publicly visible/located and this carries through in any data sharing agreement. As Carrie outlined, it seems appropriate that the primary entities behind iNaturlaist.ca have access to the coordinates shared by people affiliated with the site to best protect biodiversity here. Why have iNaturlalist Canada, if not to make use of the information to protect biodiversity? We will not be making observations public, nor allowing others to do so, rather use them for conservation work such as status assessments and identifying Key Biodiversity Areas for conservation (without having to name an obscured species). I think this would be the same for any crowd sourcing platform - that the entity behind the platform would make use of the data collected for the purposes for which the platform was built.

I also think that iNaturalist users are intent on conservation and providing records to these few organizations who have strict confidentiality protocols enables a higher degree of species conservation. Perhaps an option if users are concerned that a given observation will be shared in confidence is to simply not report that observation. Restricting it to a randomized point within a 22kmx15km box isn’t all that useful. Yes, projects are one method for such observations, as is direct messaging the observer. NHIC for example has been very successful with their project approach, but people have to manually add observations so they miss out on tons of observations from people who simply don’t know about the project or happen to forget to add it.

Carrie mentioned a few places where this is made known. We have also posted information a in the About section of iNaturalist.ca (and the network page that Carrie mentioned is mirrored there as well): https://inaturalist.ca/pages/data-en. Granted, unless a person goes looking for this information they may not come across it. And it is a good idea for us to explain how people can avoid their observations being shared. I’m in favour of making this more prominent on the site and in discussions with Carrie about how we can better communicate this.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.