I would like to chime in with my support for this initiative (ie. the removal of many species from the list of those that are automatically obscured). My own area of interest is Butterflies, and I am one of the curators of the Ontario Butterfly Atlas project. This automatic obscuring of observations is a nightmare for us. In the past, we have contacted many observers, asking them to please alter their settings to allow curators to see the correct coordinates of their observations - both to aid in identifications, and also to allow us to include their observations in the Atlas. I appreciate that there are taxa that absolutely require protection, and I have personally reported a poacher who was subsequently prosecuted. But for butterflies in Ontario, there aren’t many species that really require protection, or where obscuring locations would have much of an effect. Even in those cases where automatic obscuring is warranted, I would argue that it may do very little to protect the location of the observation in question. A person who is oblivious to the status of a species they are reporting, and relies on the automatic obscuring is probably reporting a bunch of other, non-threatened species from the same location. If someone wants to know the location of the obscured observation, they can probably figure it out just by checking the locations of the other observations made by the observer on that day. For most observers, that will narrow down the locations of obscured observations considerably. I would argue that many experienced observers who ARE aware of the status of the species they are reporting won’t make the connection and obscure the locations for the non-threatened species they are reporting for the same location.
Just to put some numbers on the problem this causes for our project:
In 2020, over 35,000 research grade butterfly observations were added to iNat for Ontario. Ideally, we would like to add all of them to the Atlas. Over 1100 of these observations are obscured to curators. Some are common species that have been deliberately obscured - those would be no great loss to science. IMHO, not a single one is for a species that actually requires protection. There are a number of valid reasons for obscuring an observation besides protecting a vulnerable species, and I don’t have a problem with that.
To focus on one specific example, the Tawny Emperor (normally an uncommon and very localized species) experienced an unusual surge in numbers in 2020. There were 133 observations reported in 2020, far more than in previous years (even when we consider all sources of observations). Of those observations, 91 are obscured (a fair number only have the taxon geoprivacy). That would mean that we would lose around 70% of the observations if we simply accept that these observations are obscured, and the Atlas would not reflect this apparent surge in observations. I went through the list of obscured observations, picking out the observers who reported something interesting, and came up with a list of 88 observers. We are in the process of contacting all those observers, asking them to allow curators to see their locations. Not all of them will respond positively, and not all of those that do respond will be able to figure out how to allow access (hard to believe, but it happens). And on top of all that, for the observations where we are granted access to the obscured coordinates, those coordinates have to be copied from from one column to another in the download file(s). That’s an awful lot of work to do for something that (arguably) provides almost no actual benefit.
By all means, lets protect the locations for species that will actually benefit from this protection. I have a very strong suspicion that the original list was created for reasons that had little to do with protecting vulnerable species.