Published: Thu, April 05, 2018
Hi-Tech | By Wayne Curry

Grindr to stop sharing users' HIV status with third parties

Grindr to stop sharing users' HIV status with third parties

Grindr acknowledged that user information on their HIV status, including the date they were last tested, was shared with Localytics and Apptimize, two companies that Grindr paid to monitor and analyze the app's movements, NPR reports. It noted that some of the information (not including one's HIV status) was being shared in easily hackable plain text - including a user's Global Positioning System location, gay subculture, sexuality, relationship status, ethnicity and phone ID.

Bryce Case, Grindr's chief security officer, told BuzzFeed the company had chose to stop sharing information with Localytics over the reaction to the report, calling it a "misunderstanding of technology".

"Any information we provide to our software vendors including HIV status information is encrypted and at no point did we sharing sensitive information like HIV status with advertisers", Case said in the statement. And this information, unlike the HIV data, was sometimes shared via "plain text", which can easily be hacked.

Grindr rolled out the option to list HIV status in profiles a year ago with the intention of allowing punters to clearly warn others of their condition.

Since the news broke, Grindr told Axios that it has made a change to cease the sharing of users' HIV status. "I think this is the incompetence of some developers that just send everything, including HIV status".

The disclosures prompted complaints from privacy and LGBTQ advocates, as well as concerns from public health experts that users would refrain from disclosing they had sexually transmitted diseases if they feared the information would become more widely known.

"Grindr is a relatively unique place for openness about HIV status". The company has said that LGBTQ groups and global health organisations have supported this as beneficial for the health and wellbeing of the Grindr community.

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Hours later, Case said that they would stop sharing the information with third parties. U.S. Ed Markey (D-Mass) also criticized Grindr.

In a piece in the Guardian, British columnist and book author Owen Jones called the data-sharing an act of betrayal. He tested not only Grindr but also Tinder and Happn, other similar hookup apps. In Monday's statement, Chen himself noted "a person's HIV status can be highly stigmatized". "If people wish to be open about their status on Grindr, that should be applauded and celebrated".

While Grindr insists it has strong security and encryption safeguards in place, the growing consumer awareness around how their data is being used in light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations means the dating app will be far from the last company facing this problem.

Disclosing HIV status is optional for Grindr users, and is visible to other users when filled out, but many users may choose to use the app anonymously.

Case stressed that the HIV data had only been shared with Apptimize as part of Grindr's standard rollout procedure for new features on the app.

Bryan Dunn, the VP of product at Localytics, said the information his company receives meets industry security standards and his company strictly controls all access to its production systems.

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