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SafeGraph, a startup using AI to create and maintain mobility datasets, today announced it has raised $45 million in a round led by Sapphire Ventures. With the investment, SafeGraph plans to capitalize on the expanding international market of data buyers and offer new ways for companies to buy data through its network.
Location data is fast becoming a hot commodity. In May 2019, 94% of mobile marketers in the U.S. surveyed by Statista said they were already using location data for advertising purposes, while 94% indicated that they were planning to do so in the future. While more users worldwide are refusing to share location data with apps, marketers say the data is incredibly valuable for targeting purposes and personalizing customer experiences.
SafeGraph, which was founded in 2016 by former LiveRamp CEO Auren Hoffman, provides a places dataset that includes information about over 6,400,000 physical locations in the U.S. and Canada, with a U.K. launch planned for April 2021. SafeGraph customers gain access to not only location information, but spatial hierarchy metadata and place traffic data.
Drawing on data from mobile devices, satellites, and “thousands” of other sources, SafeGraph offers foot traffic insights for places, as well as corporate and retail footprints. The company uses machine learning and human feedback to associate business listing info with the footprints and algorithmically classify over 5,500 brands, updating the data monthly to account for store openings and closings.
SafeGraph says its datasets are used by financial services and real estate and advertising companies like Sysco, Ares Management, and Choice Hotels for shopper demographics, marketing campaign performance comparisons, and risk management underwriting. Clients engaged in retail site selection can see which day of the week a census block group — the most granular level of reporting conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau — is busiest and where people who stopping during breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours are traveling from, among other details. SafeGraph also hosts a community of more than 7,000 data scientists who collaborate on various geospatial projects.
The global location intelligence market is expected to reach $32.8 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research. In spite of competition from companies like AirSage, Factual, Cuebiq, and Matrixian Group, SafeGraph says it doubled its year-over-year revenue while improving efficiency metrics, such as revenue per employee.
But location analytics solutions have drawn increased scrutiny as regulators take a hard look at the data vendors are collecting. Using datasets from Fysical and SafeGraph, the New York Times managed to track the movements of former President Trump during the 2017 presidential inauguration. More recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and IRS announced they would audit their own use of location data after it was revealed that the agencies were purchasing cellphone location data from commercial sources.
Debates about location-tracking capabilities have also come to the fore as countries around the world adopt contact-tracing apps to control the spread of COVID-19. In May, North Dakota said its smartphone app, Care19, had been sending users’ location data to the digital marketing service Foursquare, an issue the state’s app developer later fixed. A U.S. law proposed last year — COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act — would have required companies to obtain consent from users to collect, process, or transfer personal health, geolocation, proximity, or device data for contact tracing.
For its part, SafeGraph notes that users can opt out of having their location data used for its services and that it deletes data from providers in countries under the jurisdiction of GDPR. The company also claims to anonymize information such that it can’t know users’ precise home addresses or places of work — at least not without cross-referencing SafeGraph’s data with public records and pinpointing devices that regularly spend time at a location.
“What stands out about SafeGraph is how they’ve been able to quickly position themselves into a major player in the geospatial data industry,” Sapphire Ventures partner Cathy Gao said in a press release. “By singularly focusing on providing the highest-quality places data to data science teams, they’ve earned the trust of some of the largest public and private institutions. The efficient growth to date is a strong indicator of where we think the company is going, and Auren’s track record of building consequential data businesses speaks for itself.”
Ridge Ventures’ Alex Rosen, DNX Ventures, and Peter Thiel also participated in SafeGraph’s latest funding round. It brings the company’s total raised to over $60 million, following a $16 million series A in April 2017.
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