Gay dating app Grindr caused outrage Monday for sharing information about users' HIV status or locations with two companies enlisted to optimize its software.
Grindr chief technology officer Scott Chen said in a Tumblr post that sharing data with partners such as Apptimize and Localytics was "industry practice" and that steps were taken to protect people's privacy. Sensitive data are encrypted when sent, and vendors are under strict contractual terms to keep it secure and confidential, according to Chen.
"As a company that serves the LGBTQ community, we understand the sensitivities around HIV status disclosure," Chen said. "Our goal is and always has been to support the health and safety of our users worldwide."
Online rights champion Electric Frontier Foundation called Grindr's response "disappointing." “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,” Cooper Quintin, a senior staff technologist and security researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Buzzfeed.
Norwegian nonprofit research group SINTEF uncovered the data sharing, and concern spread in the United States after Buzzfeed reported the findings.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) called Grindr's data sharing "an egregious breach of confidentiality laws," demanding it "immediately cease and desist the reckless practice."
"It is extremely unfortunate that those men who have been courageous enough to share their HIV status, be it positive or negative, on their Grindr profiles, may have now had that most personal data indiscriminately shared by Grindr," said Michael Weinstein, the AHF president. "We laud those Grindr members for their courage and challenge Grindr to quickly get its act together to restore the confidentiality all members deserve."
"You guys should just close up now," read one of the few comments in an online chat forum under the Grindr post at Tumblr. "No one cares about your efforts or industry standards. You betrayed the LGBT community in more than just the one way."