Grindr Under Fire for Sharing User HIV Status With Vendors


Dating app Grindr under fire for sharing sensitive user details with third parties. He also reminds users that Grindr's privacy policy clearly spells out that information posted to Grindr could end up in the public eye, and that "you should carefully consider what information to include".

The story first broke in March 2018, when the Swedish public broadcaster, SVT, reported that the app sends highly personal information-including Global Positioning System location, sexual preferences, and HIV status-to two companies: Apptimize and Localytics.

But what Chen and Grindr seem to fail to understand, at least initially, is that, while most users who share their HIV status in the app want it to be seen by other potential partners, they may not fully realize that this data may also be shared outside of Grindr.

Buzzfeed's report was based on an analysis by Antoine Pultier, a researcher at the Norwegian nonprofit SINTEF.

In a tweet, United States senator Ed Markey suggested that greater care needed to be taken when handling information about individuals' HIV status: "Privacy isn't just about credit card numbers and passwords".

Grindr was founded in 2009 and now has about 3.6m users worldwide.

"Grindr is a relatively unique place for openness about HIV status", James Krellenstein, a member of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP New York, told BuzzFeed News.

Users on Grindr are given the option to share their HIV status along with the time they were last tested - an option backed, the company said, by LGBTQ groups and global health organisations.

"All practices where a company has access to confidential information such as HIV status, sexual orientation or even information on deadly allergies, should be illegal to share with other parties", said Evgeny Chereshnev, chief executive and founder of privacy tech firm Biolink.

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Grindr Chief Technology Officer Scott Chen explained that the company does not and will not sell users' data to third parties or advertisers - it will only "work with" vendors to further enhance the app, but this involves data sharing.

He adds that while location data, HIV status fields and other features within Grindr are at times shared with these vendors, they are transmitted with encryption.

Following BuzzFeed News's report, Bryan Dunn, VP of Product at Localytics, issued a statement clarifying his company's policy surrounding the data it receives. Revelations about the data sharing may make Grindr users wary of disclosing HIV status and promoting safer hygiene.

Last week, Grindr announced a new service for users: a reminder every three to six months to get tested for HIV along with directions to a testing site.

The second company, Localytics, was described by Case as a "a software program that we use to analyze our own behavior".

Grindr has reportedly provided the sensitive medical information to Apptimize and Localytics - which help optimize apps and sharpen marketing strategies. In the app, users can choose to display HIV status ranging from positive to positive and in treatment to negative or negative and on PrEP, an option Grindr meant to help foster open dialogue among users.

"It's important to remember that Grindr is a public forum".

That move angered users who felt they didn't agree to have their data sent to companies beyond Grindr.