Grindr Insists Sharing HIV Data With Outside Firms Is Industry Standard

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Dating app hits back at criticism for sharing location data and HIV status with outside firms

The data sharing and privacy spotlight has shifted away from Facebook this week and onto the gay dating app Grindr.

The dating service has found itself at the centre of privacy outcry after it emerged that it had shared sensitive data with outside companies.

But the app has hit back at the criticism and said that its “industry standard use of third party partners” was only to “test and validate” its platform.

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HIV status

Concern began when it emerged on Monday that Grindr had been sharing user data with its partners.

This information apparently included data about the HIV status of Grindr users or their location, both of which are highly sensitive.

Indeed, information passed to the third parties included the date that Grindr users were last tested for HIV.

The discovery was made by Norwegian non-profit research group Sintef, which had uncovered Grindr’s data sharing with two companies namely Apptimize and Localytics.

When BuzzFeed reported Sintef’s findings, concern erupted into the wide open in the United States.

But the firm has responded quickly to the outrage and issued its own explanation in a tumblr post.

“Recently, Grindr’s industry standard use of third party partners including Apptimize and Localytics, two highly-regarded software vendors, to test and validate the way we roll out our platform has drawn concern over the way we share user data,” wrote Scott Chen, CTO of Grindr.

But it went on to reassure its customers.

“Grindr has never, nor will we ever sell personally identifiable user information – especially information regarding HIV status or last test date – to third parties or advertisers,” Chen wrote. “As an industry standard practice, Grindr does work with highly-regarded vendors to test and optimize how we roll out our platform. These vendors are under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security, and user privacy.”

Chen said that the data which may have included HIV status and location information is “always transmitted securely with encryption, and there are data retention policies in place to further protect our users’ privacy from disclosure.”

“It’s important to remember that Grindr is a public forum,” wrote Chen. “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.”

“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,” said Chen.

But some Grindr users reacted angrily to this admission it shared personal data, with one user asking what other information Grindr had shared with other firms, and they were only admitting this after getting caught.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reportedly said it was investigating the matter.

Nothing wrong

But Grindr is insisting it has done nothing wrong and that it has not shared the information with any advertisers.

And Grindr’s security boss Bryce Case later exclusively told US news site Axios that data sharing with third-party companies with the goal of improving the app, rather than selling data, was commonplace.

“I understand the news cycle right now is very focused on these issues,” Case is quoted as saying. “I think what’s happened to Grindr is, unfairly, we’ve been singled out.”

He rejected any comparison to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“It’s conflating an issue and trying to put us in the same camp where we really don’t belong,” he is quoted as saying. “There is a difference he said between a “software platform we use for debugging and optimization purposes” as opposed to “a firm that’s trying to sway elections.”

Axios reported that Grindr had stopped sharing users’ HIV status with its third-party vendors.

Security experts have long warned that dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr, could easily be hacked to reveal users’ exact location.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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