The popular gay hook-up app came under fire yesterday as a Swedish TV program reported on the findings of a Norwegian nonprofit organization, which became concerned in February about information Grindr was sharing with two other companies, Localytics and Apptimize.
Users on Grindr are given the option to share their HIV status along with the time they were last tested. "That's the main issue", SINTEF researcher Antoine Pultier told BuzzFeed. "I think this is the incompetence of some developers that just send everything, including HIV status", said Pultier.
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.
Security experts, Aids activists, and a United States lawmaker have all slammed the tactic as a breach of user trust, claiming it could help identify Grindr's members and their HIV status. Apptimize bills its service as helping companies "make better apps", and Localytics says its goal is "to help customers build stronger relationships with their mobile and web app users through our analytics and marketing platform".
"As an industry standard practice, Grindr does work with highly regarded vendors to test and optimise how we roll out our platform". This means some data is sent to third-party companies under plain text, BuzzFeed News reports, which is much easier to obtain and read due to its unencrypted nature.
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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".
Federal law prevents companies and medical professionals from sharing someone's HIV status and other medical information outside of limited circumstances, but since users voluntarily share the information on their public profile, the law does not apply. "Software companies that cater for LGBT+ people arguably have a special responsibility, given the potentially risky countries that many of their users live in".
Grindr's sharing of this immensely personal data with other companies, no matter the stated intention and protections put in place, could have similar consequences if things went wrong.
The revelation drew sharp criticism of Grindr, with many slamming the upstart for sharing what many consider to be highly sensitive personal information with third-parties along with Global Positioning System coordinates.
The second company, Localytics, was described by Case as a "a software program that we use to analyze our own behavior".
Last week there was an outcry after it was revealed that it was relatively simple to determine the location of Grindr users because of a security flaw. Nonetheless, the public outcry has compelled Grindr to change its policies regarding this sensitive data.
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