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Gay dating app Grindr says it shared HIV status of users

04 April 2018

Grindr made the decision late Monday after defending its information-sharing practices earlier in the day in response to a barrage of criticism following revelations that sensitive user data like HIV status was being shared.

The app's chief security officer Bryce Case told BuzzFeed that while he would "not admit fault", the company would stop sharing the data "based on the reaction - a misunderstanding of technology - to allay people's fears". Because the HIV info is shared along with Global Positioning System data, phone IDs, and email addresses, it makes it possible to link specific Grindr users with their health condition.

Case added that all HIV status data was encrypted as it was sent, and now that the testing has been completed the data has been removed from Apptimize.

Since its launch in 2009, Grindr has grown into "the world's largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer individuals; it has upwards of 3.6 million daily active users throughout the world".

However Grindr's security boss Bryce Case later told U.S. news site Axios that data sharing with third-party companies with the goal of improving the app, rather than selling data, was commonplace.

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Critics scoffed at an explanation released by Grindr, which stated, "Thousands of companies use these highly-regarded platforms".

Chen noted that Grindr works with third-parties, but ensures the data shared is "always transmitted securely with encryption, and there are data retention policies in place to further protect our users' privacy from disclosure". "We pay these software vendors to utilize their services", Chen said.

News that the app was sharing the data first appeared in a story by BuzzFeed on Monday.

Apptimize and Localytics, companies that help apps sharpen marketing strategies, "receive some of the information that Grindr users choose to include in their profiles", BuzzFeed reported. Councilmember Duran agreed, saying "I'm starting to believe that numerous young people who work for the company don't understand what we actually fought for in blood", a reference to battles waged in the past to provide health care to HIV positive people and fight stigma against them.

The second company, Localytics, is "a software program that we use to analyze our own behavior", Case said.

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Grindr offers free ads for HIV testing sites and recently rolled out an opt-in feature that would remind users to get tested for HIV every three to six months.

Grindr was quick to hit back at the allegations though, telling BuzzFeed that data sharing is "standard" in the industry and highlighted the fact that the app has always been a "public forum".

A Norwegian campaign group, Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research, said that HIV status information was linked to information shared with the two outside firms.

Trever Faden, CEO of the property management startup Atlas Lane, discovered the exploit after setting up a website called C**kblocked, which allowed users to see who blocked them after they entered their username and password.

Under the app's HIV status category, users can select from a variety of statuses, which include whether the user is positive, positive and on HIV treatment, negative or negative and on PrEP.

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Gay dating app Grindr says it shared HIV status of users