Gay dating apps are developing ways for people diagnosed with an STD to alert recent sexual partners to get tested.
Grindr and other apps are looking to implement this notification system to curtail the rise in STD infections, according to Dr. Heidi Bauer, the California Department of Health chief of STD control.
“A number of different possibilities have been discussed,” Dr. Bauer told Mashable. “It’s just sort of a matter of feasibility and impact.”
The most likely option will be to set up an anonymous notification service that can be accessed through the app. While such a service does not yet have a launch timeframe, Dan Wohlfeiler, director of the health consortium Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC) said that is “currently being designed and piloted.”
“The decision made was, let’s go forth with this system right now, where we have a link to an external website that can do that,” Wohlfeiler said. “And then we can continue to discuss other options as they go. So we’re really excited.”
Also being considered is a notification service built into the apps themselves, which Bauer prefers, saying “I’m super optimistic that we’re going to move in that direction. We’re not quite there yet, but there are definitely discussions.”
The current external service being worked on would require a participant to have a phone number or an email to notify their past sexual partners, but Bauer acknowledges that not everyone communicates with all their sexual partners outside of apps.
“That is a potential gap,” Bauer said. “This workaround will work in the majority of situations, because people at least have a phone number. But there are going to be some people missed if no contact information is shared.”
Bauer suggests that apps create their own notification alert that can be sent to former partners, while still remaining anonymous.
“The app could take the responsibility, with the consent of the user, to send out a notification to a particular individual,” she said. “The app could send a notification to say: ‘It’s really important that you get tested for STDs, and here’s a link to a zip code based search engine to find the closest STD clinic near you.'”
While this process still has a long way to go, Bauer said that she thinks the Department of Health and gay apps are on the right track to better protect individuals in an evolving dating world.
“We’re trying to use some of the same technologies in communicating with people, and notifying folks with health alerts,” she said. “I think we can’t condemn technology by any stretch. We need to just understand it and better use it.”
In March, Grindr announced an opt-in feature that regularly reminds users to get tested for HIV either every three or six months.
However, in April, the company admitted that it had shared users’ HIV status with two outside companies for testing purposes.