Published: Wed, April 04, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Grindr is telling other companies if you're HIV positive

Grindr is telling other companies if you're HIV positive

Apptimize and Localytics, both data-optimization firms, have received certain information that some Grindr users choose to include in their profiles, including their HIV status and "last tested date".

In the heat of the social network data sales, the biggest gay dating app Grindr was under fire on Monday for sharing information about users' HIV status, the date users were tested or locations with two outside companies Apptimize and Localytics enlisted to optimize its software.

Online rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Grindr's response "disappointing", and accused the company of "leaking users' Global Positioning System locations over plaintext and sharing users' HIV status with companies".

But a wave of advocacy organizations and users say the revelations are a serious violation of trust and privacy - with some worrying the news could undercut recommendations from HIV prevention experts to regularly get tested and disclose HIV status with potential sexual partners. "I think privacy comes first", said Cecilia Chung, a San Francisco Health Commissioner and transgender, HIV awareness advocate.

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SINTEF warned that this information could easily be obtained through hacking, which could pose security risks to Grindr's 3.3 million daily active users.

"Grindr is a relatively unique place for openness about HIV status".

"As a company that serves the LGBTQ community, we understand the sensitivities around HIV status disclosure", Scott Chen, Grindr's chief technology officer, said in a statement.

According to extrapolated data from a research analysis, it has been revealed that Grindr is sharing your HIV status (among other sensitive data) with two other independent companies.

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Grindr security chief Bryce Case said numerous concerns with Grindr's data-sharing practices showed a misunderstanding of what was being shared and with whom. "We pay these software vendors to utilize their services", Chen said. "These vendors are under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security and user privacy", Chen said. This not only means they would have to rely on a third-party company to secure that data and keep it private, but it also means hackers have another data source to potentially target.

Case said that Grindr's situation is much different from Facebook's, noting that the goal was strictly for debugging the app. "The Consumer Council can not see that Grindr is registered under the trans-Atlantic data transfer agreement Privacy Shield, which is meant to ensure that personal data that is transferred to the United States is protected in line with European data protection law". While the company has made a push lately to encourage users to be tested and share the date it happened, they did not disclose they would be giving that information to third-party vendors.

And despite it positioning itself as an open place for HIV disclosure and discussion, it also reminded users that if they don't want their HIV status "getting out", they should simply not disclose. The app's security chief has since said the practice will stop. This is just something we use for internal tooling.

"It's important to remember that Grindr is a public forum", the Tumblr post said.

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In his Monday post, Grindr's CTO vaguely said: "We too must operate with industry standard practices to help make sure Grindr continues to improve for our community".

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