With the fall out from the Cambridge Analytica scandal still ongoing and the apology that Grindr issued last year over reports that HIV status of its users was shared with third party companies, people who use online apps should certainly be more interested in how the personal information they give so freely is used. With that in mind, Eric Silverberg, CEO of Scruff, shared why he believes it is important that gay dating apps be run by gay people.
First, a little on Scruff itself – it originally began in the gay bear community but has expanded to be used by a diverse cross section of the gay community. People use the app to find hookups, dates and to plan travel. Most importantly, Scruff prides itself as a friendly and safe space on the internet – something which Silverberg says has become increasingly relevant in recent times.
“I don’t think the world appreciated how important that was going to become 10 years ago when we first started out. But when you read about Grindr… and then see what happens on places like Twitter where you have harassment or people being threatened, having a space where people can express themselves and be vulnerable – it really matters.”
Something which also may surprise, is that Scruff is actually one of only a small few gay dating apps which are owned and operated by gay people. As Silverberg shared, “I think it leads to very different outcomes for the businesses and for the people that use these apps.”
He continued, “It’s so important you have people in the community leading, because if you are ostracised from that community for the sake of a bad business decision, that’s going to hurt your feelings and you’re going to hopefully retain and reconsider that. If you have leaders who are not a part of the community, you can’t influence them via social and emotional appeals, only though economic appeals.”
Beyond the issue of queer or straight ownership, there is also the fact that data privacy and security should be of paramount importance, especially for LGBT+ users. After all, in countries where it’s illegal to be gay, the last thing users need is a data leak. “We’ve heard anecdotally, there are some stories written about the executives at Silicon Valley who no longer use the apps that they write because they are aware of all the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. The people at a company have to use their own product – there’s a very fundamental principle in that.”
Silverberg explained why Scruff, and its sibling dating app Jack’d, took the decision to sever all ties with third party advertising: “We did not believe we could continue to integrate with these third parties and be compliant with GDPR in a way that was complicit with our values and the high standards our community hold us to. I can not imagination a for-profit straight dating company turning their back on ad revenue. This decision cost us money, but it was the right decision to make. It’s critical to have leadership who understand the social and emotional and political impact of what they’re doing.”
Users of apps are (hopefully) becoming more savvy as stories continue to come to light of data leaks and security breaches, and with increasing scrutiny being put on the people we give that information to, for as Silverberg concludes, “If you get the leadership team who are about profit maximisation above all else, that’s how you end up with Cambridge Analytica.”
In response to this story, a Grindr spokesperson issued the following statement:
“Grindr has never sold user data to any third parties. Rather, Grindr enlisted trusted service providers for analytics and testing services, and under contract, these service providers received user data via private, encrypted channels. While news stories have erroneously reported this as a ‘sale’, Grindr has been, and continues to be, committed to safeguarding the data entrusted to us by our users. While Grindr regrets the anxiety this circumstance has caused our users, Grindr’s company policy remains that we will not sell user data.”
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