Grindr slammed for exposing users' HIV status

The app Grindr displayed on a smartphone. Source: Getty

Gay dating app Grindr has stopped sharing users' HIV status with third parties after initially defending the action as "industry practice".

Gay dating app Grindr has said it will stop sharing details of their users' HIV status with third parties after the company was slammed for defending the practice.

Grindr came under fire for sharing information about users' health or locations with two companies enlisted to optimise its software. The app's security chief has since said the practice will stop.

Prior to this, Grindr's chief technology officer Scott Chen shared a Tumblr post saying that sharing data with partners such as Apptimize and Localytics was "industry practice". He said steps were taken to protect people's privacy.

"As a company that serves the LGBTQ community, we understand the sensitivities around HIV status disclosure," he said.

"Our goal is and always has been to support the health and safety of our users worldwide."

Grindr is a Los Angeles-based company that was founded in 2009. The dating app is said to have more than 3.6 million active users worldwide.

Grindr users have the option of sharing their HIV status and when they were most recently tested.

James Krellenstein, a member of AIDS advocacy group ACT UP New York told Buzzfeed that Grindr was "relatively unique for openness about HIV status". 

"To then have that data shared with third parties that you weren’t explicitly notified about, and having that possibly threaten your health or safety — that is an extremely, 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."

Researchers worried that including the health information with other data such as location and email address could result in people being identified.

Online rights champion Electric Frontier Foundation called Grindr's response "disappointing."

Who did Grindr share with? 

Grindr has said that it uses Apptimize and Localytics to test and validate its platform, and that data it shares with them could include users' HIV status or location fields.

Sensitive data is encrypted when sent, and vendors are under strict contractual terms to keep it secure and confidential, according to Mr Chen.

Norwegian nonprofit research group SINTEF uncovered the data sharing, and concern spread in the US after Buzzfeed reported the findings.

"Grindr has never, nor will we ever sell personally identifiable user information - especially information regarding HIV status or last test date – to third parties or advertisers," Mr Chen said.

He noted though that Grindr is a public platform, and that should be kept in mind when deciding what to put in profiles.

In an interview with news website Axios, Grindr's security chief Bryce Chase said the company had stopped sharing users' HIV status with its third party vendors following criticism. 

Mr Chase told Axios he felt the app had been "unfairly singled out" following the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data breach.

"I understand the news cycle right now is very focused on these issues," Mr Case reportedly said.

"I think what’s happened to Grindr is, unfairly, we’ve been singled out.

"It’s conflating an issue and trying to put us in the same camp where we really don’t belong."

'Close up now': LGBTQI+ community responds 

"You guys should just close up now," read one of the few comments in an online chat forum under the Grindr post at Tumblr.

"No one cares about your efforts or industry standards. You betrayed the LGBTQI+ community in more than just the one way."

- Additional reporting Natasha Christian 

Source AFP - SBS

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