Grindr Sets Off Privacy Firestorm After Sharing Users' HIV-Status Data

Lynette PayneApr 05, 2018

Grindr also shares its users' precise GPS position, "tribe" (meaning what gay subculture they identify with), sexuality, relationship status, ethnicity, and phone ID to other third-party advertising companies.

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.

Alarmingly, the data on HIV status was bundled with other information that might jeopardize the privacy of a user, including phone ID, email, and GPS position.

Sintef, a Norwegian non-profit research company, said this meant that individuals could be identified as HIV positive by the analytics companies and put them at a greater risk from hackers.

Grindr said if users did not want their data being shared with these companies, they should not have volunteered it. "As a company that serves the LGBTQ community, we understand the sensitivities around HIV status disclosure", Chen said.

Speaking to the United States news site Axios, Grindr's Security Chief, Bryce Case, stated that sharing information with third-party companies, in order to improve the app, was commonplace.

With around 3.6 million daily active users, Grindr also offers its members the option of declaring their HIV status along with their last tested date. "Grindr and those with whom it shares its users' sensitive information has an obligation to both protect this data and ensure users have meaningful control over it".

"Grindr collects highly personal data about its users", wrote Senators Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) in a letter addressed to Grindr's interim CEO Zhou Yahui. "I think this is the incompetence of some developers that just send everything, including HIV status".

"Grindr is an app that is targeted to and used by sexual minorities, and on that basis there is reason to believe that information about the use of the service could be sufficient to draw conclusions about sexual orientation", concluded the Council.

Case also said that Grindr was being unfairly singled out. The company states that this option is backed by LGBT+ groups and worldwide health organisations.

Chen added that the companies that use Grindr's data were simply software optimization firms that acted "under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security, and user privacy".

But in a odd move, the app published another troubling statement in its privacy policy: "It's important to remember that Grindr is a public forum". "Sharing users' HIV status would be a serious violation of privacy", Lina Rosengren-Hovee, an infectious diseases fellow at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who has studied the use of Grindr to advertise self-test HIV kits, told Vox.

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