Popular gay dating app, Grindr, has come under fire for sharing data that reveals users’ HIV status with third-party companies. The dating app, which has around 3.6 million active daily users, launched a new feature in 2017 that allowed users to disclose their status and last test date in what the company said was an attempt to raise awareness and destigmatise the disease.
Yesterday, through a report obtained by Buzzfeed, it was revealed that these sensitive details, along with email and phone ID’s, have been passed on to two companies, Apptimize and Localystics, which both specialise in app-optimisation. Although Grindr insists that this is a common practice for any app, there are concerns that this sensitive information is now at greater risk of theft, as it can now be obtained from any three of the companies involved.
Grindr Data Dangers
Grindr is correct in that it shares information with third-party apps like many others in the industry, however, the devil is in the detail. With a user’s HIV status and last test date lumped together with the rest of the information, a person’s full details including their HIV status could be identified, a potential data jackpot for a would-be hacker.
Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO and founder of Biolink.Tech says that if sensitive information such as this were to be leaked or obtained through illegal means then it is “like gold to hackers and can be used for blackmail, extortion or manipulation.”
Grindr has since apologised for sharing sensitive data to third parties, but insisted they were not selling this information, rather sharing it in an attempt to improve the app and better cater to their users and the community at large. Nonetheless, this could damage users’ confidence in the app and prevent people from disclosing vital health details.
Confidence in Grindr
Philip Baldwin, an LGBT and HIV writer, activist and columnist for Gay Times told DIGIT that he was shocked to find out that Grindr has been so openly sharing personal information with third parties: “Disclosing your HIV status is intensely personal and it is wrong for Grindr to breach its users’ privacy in this way, potentially disempowering HIV positive people.”
Baldwin said he hopes the data breach will not cause people to be fearful of disclosing their HIV status, and that Grindr “must regain the trust of the LGBT community by stating categorically that it will not do this again.”
Grindr’s role in destigmatising HIV has been hailed in the past, and it has taken an active role in creating a transparent sphere that promotes health awareness and safe sex in the LGBT community. It’s inclusion of HIV status and recent health check is a valuable aspect of the app, Baldwin added that it “encourages users to think about safer sex and make informed decisions, as well as combating the stigma of HIV. ”