• Grindr app. (Source: Grindr)Source: Source: Grindr
Could Grindr’s sale to a Chinese gaming company signal a boon for gay dating apps in countries where homosexuality has been driven underground?
Genevieve Dwyer

20 Jan 2016 - 9:53 AM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2016 - 10:10 AM

The location-based nature of gay dating app Grindr makes it the perfect solution for isolated young gay men in countries such as India (where gay sex was actually recriminalised in 2013). Grindr's GPS technology allows its users to track down potential suitors in their vicinity through the privacy of the app without the many of the risks associated with being publicly “out”.

With a growing legion of users on the sub-continent there’s now even a Facebook page, Desi Grindr adventures, founded in tribute to some of the exchanges that take place between there.

Grindr claims to have a presence in 196 countries around the world, with CEO Joel Simkhai having previously stated said that he’s “very proud” that the app is used in countries where homosexuality is illegal or considered taboo.

“It all happened organically. It’s illegal to be gay in over 70 countries in this world,” he told Bloomberg in April last year.

“Grindr in a lot of places is the unique place for gay men to meet each other. There’s no gay bars, there’s no gay life.

“We’re very proud of that.”

It’s actually China’s queer dating market that has come into particular focus recently with the news last week that Grindr sold 60 per cent of its shares to Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun.

Despite homosexuality only being decriminalised as recently as 1997 and the scene still largely underground due to social stigma, Grindr is actually not even the most popular gay dating app in China. That title belongs to Blued, a locally-produced app founded by former policeman-turned-tech entrepreneur, Ma Baoli.

With more than three million daily users, Blued is expected to soon become a publicly-listed company. This is quite remarkable in a country where many young gay men and lesbians often partake in sham heterosexual marriages in order to appease their parents; fulfilling cultural expectations of their filial duties to wed and have children.

So it is that many gay men turn to apps such as Grindr and Blued as an outlet. But what about the dangers of using a location based app in a country where homosexuality is taboo? The GPS technology could potentially allow a user’s location to be pinpointed and targeted by authorities or predators.

A serial killer in Pakistan who “wanted to teach gays a lesson” used local dating app Manjam to track down and murder three gay men in the city of Lahore in 2014.

In the same year it was alleged that police in Egypt were using fake Grindr accounts to “hunt” gay men through the app, prompting creators to issue a warning to users: 

In India, the law that defines same-sex intercourse as “against the order of nature” leaves users of apps like Grindr and PlanetRomeo (another popular local choice) open to extortion or robbery.

The practice is reportedly on the rise, but the numbers are hard to verify as victims are often unwilling or unable to come forward.

“It’s more and more frequent,” a 26-year-old engineer told The Wall Street Journal last year.

The young man who requested to remain anonymous alleges he was robbed after inviting a man back to his apartment. After they had had sex, the visiting man threatened to tell his neighbours that he was gay unless he paid up 10,000 rupees (AUD $215).

Yet the victim was hardly in a position to notify police. “If I file a complaint because a man I had sex with robbed me, I’m denouncing myself under Section 377,” he said. “It’s a lose-lose situation.”

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Of course, the app is not for everyone. In India, a country where only 3 per cent of people have home internet access, the usage of such apps is mainly restricted to the select few – mainly in big cities and mainly middle to upper classes – which may potentially make them stronger targets for potential extorters.

Founder of the Desi Grindr adventures page Kapil Rananaware says in a blog post on Quora that the “Grindr crowd is English speaking - urban - upper class and is composed of more guys looking for more than one night stand than on PR [PlanetRomeo]. ”

One thing that is for certain though is that usage of these apps is on the rise. In the second half of the 2014-15 financial year, Grindr said its users in India grew by nearly 50 per cent from the same period the year prior. With the app connecting otherwise-marginalised people together more than ever before, the balance between accessibility and user safety has never been a greater priority.