The head of security at Grindr told Axios that the company will stop sharing users’ HIV status with other companies.
Bryce Case, Grindr’s security chief, said that Grindr has changed its policy about sharing “particularly sensitive information,” like HIV status, with third parties following outcry.
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.
Case said that it doesn’t sell information like HIV status with advertisers but uses the services of those other two companies to “optimize” their app.
“We’ve been very careful to balance the needs of our customers with the needs of our advertisers,” he said.
Case said that the company was “unfairly” targeted for criticism because of recent online privacy discussions. He said that the third parties are under “contractual obligation” not to share the information with others.
“It’s conflating an issue and trying to put us in the same camp where we really don’t belong,” he said, referring to Cambridge Analytica, which took advantage of Facebook’s lax security to steal information from 50 million users’ profiles.
But HIV and online privacy advocates said that the practice was an “egregious breach” of users’ trust, both because they weren’t notified that their information was being shared and because storing the information in more places means that it will be stolen.
Because the information was sent with users’ GPS location, phone number, and email address (which may include a user’s government name and employer), the Norwegian nonprofit that sounded the alarm about this said that people’s HIV status could be discovered.
In a Tumblr response to the outcry, Grindr said that users know that the app is a “public forum” and shouldn’t share information on it that they don’t want accessed by others.
“It’s important to remember that Grindr is a public forum,” the Tumblr post said. “As a result, you should carefully consider what information to include in your profile.”
That said, many states have laws that require people living with HIV to disclose their status with sexual partners, and some have been aggressive in prosecuting those accused of not disclosing their status. It can be difficult for a defendant to prove that they shared the information with a sexual partner without written proof.
And while user information is technically public, it is more difficult to compile a list of people who have HIV and their identifying information by browsing Grindr and talking other users into giving their email addresses and phone numbers.
“We’ve fought so hard the last 30 years to ensure HIV status was kept confidential and private,” said West Hollywood Mayor John Duran, who is open about his HIV status. “That’s because people have historically suffered from discrimination in employment, insurance, housing and dating.”