Grindr Under Fire For Sharing Users’ HIV Data With Other Companies

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The app previously defended sharing sensitive data such as HIV information with third parties as customary practice to ensure better service.

 

Ever since Facebook was caught in the midst of a user privacy breach scandal, it has opened a whole new debate: How safe is your data on the internet?

The next social networking platform in line to face scrutiny for user data privacy breach is Grindr.

The popular gay dating app Grindr has agreed to stop sharing users’ HIV status to third party companies after the practice was discovered by researchers at the Norwegian nonprofit group SINTEF.

Grindr initially defended their decision to send out HIV status along with other user information, like location, to two companies called Apptimize and Localytics. These companies help optimize apps and test Grindr’s performance.

The gay dating app maintained the data is not sold to third parties or used to gain advertisers but they share this highly sensitive data on a strict contractual basis with the two companies and it is not further shared by them. However, SINTEF reported that some of the shared data was also being used by third-party advertisers.

Grindr has more than 3.5 million users and user profiles can reveal a large amount of personal information. In the dating app, the users are given an option to fill or skip HIV-related information.

The app previously defended sharing sensitive data with third parties as customary practice to ensure better service.

“As an industry standard practice, Grindr does work with highly-regarded vendors to test and optimize how we roll out our platform… It’s important to remember that Grindr is a public forum. We give users the option to post information about themselves including HIV status and last test date, and we make it clear in our privacy policy that if you choose to include this information in your profile, the information will also become public. As a result, you should carefully consider what information to include in your profile,” the statement read.

Although Grindr claims all the data shared via the app is secure and encrypted, SINTEF found that some of the less sensitive data like gender, location and physical type is not always under encryption.

The news comes after Grindr recently announced a feature that will encourage people to get tested for HIV by issuing reminders. The decision was lauded by HIV health experts, however, the news of sharing HIV information raised questions about how seriously the app takes the matter.

"I was thrilled when they were doing that. This absolutely dampens my enthusiasm,” said professor Perry Halkitis, dean of Rutgers University School of Public Health.

He added that released HIV data could lead to discrimination against HIV-positive people in workplaces, at school, for housing and healthcare.

Experts also brought into question the matter of user privacy and its breach by sharing data that could potentially put the user’s life at risk.

“Grindr is a relatively unique place 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,” said James Krellenstein, a member of AIDS advocacy group ACT UP New York.

“It allows anybody who is running the network or who can monitor the network — such as a hacker or a criminal with a little bit of tech knowledge, or your ISP or your government — to see what your location is. When you combine this with an app like Grindr that is primarily aimed at people who may be at risk — especially depending on the country they live in or depending on how homophobic the local populace is — this is an especially bad practice that can put their user safety at risk,” said Cooper Quintin, senior staff technologist and security researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, outlining the probable dangers posed if such information is exposed to the wrong people.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/ Nacho Doce

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