Following the uproar surrounding the revelation that Grindr was, amongst other information, sharing the HIV status of its users with other companies, the popular hook-up app has announced it will stop.
Along with the user’s status, their GPS data, phone ID, email, sexual orientation, relationship status, the gay ‘tribe’ they consider themselves a part of, and their ethnicity, was shared with third party analytics companies.
SINTEF, the non profit research institute which carried out the investigation, discovered that Grindr was providing this information to Apptimize and Localytics, companies which specialise in optimising apps. In their report, SINTEF stated that the sharing of this unencrypted information meant that “people, companies, or governments” could “listen in on a network to discover who is using Grindr, where they are located…how do they look, what do they like, what do they browse”.
There were worries this could be a huge problem if criminals or hackers were able to access the information, especially in countries where it would be considered dangerous to reveal the user’s sexual orientation or status. Campaigners stated that while the user may be comfortable sharing their HIV status on the app, it would obviously be a different matter entirely if they knew the information was being passed along to other companies.
In an interview, James Krellenstein, of ACT UP New York, stated that sharing the data unbeknownst to users was “an extremely egregious breach of basic standards that we wouldn’t expect from a company that likes to brand itself as a supporter of the queer community”.
While Grindr have announced they are to stop the practice of sharing that particular information, they at first defended the decision, continuing that they felt like they had been unfairly singled out as many companies also shared similar information.
Bryce Case, their security chief, followed up in an interview, “‘The inclusion of HIV status information within our platform is always regarded carefully with our users’ privacy in mind, but like any other mobile app company, we too must operate with industry standard practices to help make sure Grindr continues to improve for our community”.
The news comes on the heels of concern over the app being bought by a Chinese company and whether this could mean the Chinese government could demand access to the personal details of its users.
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