Gay dating app Grindr is to be sold by its Chinese owners because of a potential threat to national security.
That’s the news from Reuters, which reports that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has told Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd that its ownership of the app is a national security risk.
Reuters sources didn’t say what exactly led to Grindr’s foreign ownership being deemed a risk, or whether the CFIUS or Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd took any steps to try and alleviate the issue.
As such, speculation is rife about why Grindr is considered a security risk, though both Reuters and Engadget have speculated that the presence of U.S. military and intelligence personnel on the app could be to blame.
That’s in part because the U.S. government is becoming increasingly interested in how app developers handle their users’ personal information, particularly private or sensitive data — such as the location of U.S. troops or an intelligence official using the app.
Misuse of data is a particularly sore spot for Grindr, which has been hit with a number of unflattering headlines over the past year, including the revelation that the app was sharing users’ HIV status with other companies.
Grindr, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, admitted to sharing users’ HIV status with two outside companies for testing purposes, as well as the “last tested date” for those who are HIV-negative or on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Grindr said that both firms were under “strict contractual terms” to provide “the highest level of confidentiality.”
But the data being shared was so detailed — including users’ GPS data, phone ID, and email — that it could be used to identify specific users and their HIV status.
Another insight into Grindr’s data security policies came early last year when a D.C.-based developer created a website that allowed users to see who had previously blocked them on the app — information that is normally inaccessible.
The website, C*ckBlocked, tapped into Grindr’s own APIs to display the data after developer Trever Faden discovered that Grindr stored the list of who a user had both blocked and been blocked by in the app’s code.
Faden also revealed that he could use Grindr’s data to generate a map showing the breakdown of individual profiles by neighborhood, including information such as age, sexual position preference, and general location of users in that area.
In September last year, an investigation by Queer Europe also uncovered that a third party app called Fuckr could pinpoint users to within 6 to 16 feet — sufficient accuracy for someone using the service to narrow the location of Grindr users down to individual buildings or even rooms.
The app also displayed users’ profile information, including photos, body type, HIV status, and sexual position preference.
With regards Grindr’s sale, Reuters reports that the app will be put up for auction, after Kunlun’s original plans to float Grindr for an initial public offering (IPO) were abandoned. Kunlun assumed control of Grindr in 2016, buying total control of the app in 2018.
Additional scandal befell the company when in December last year Grindr’s president made controversial comments about same-sex marriage.
Scott Chen stated in a private Facebook post that marriage is a “holy matrimony” between men and women, comments interpreted by many to be in opposition to same-sex marriage.
Though he later clarified that he supports same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, Grindr’s head of communications Landen Zumwalt resigned, saying he “refused to compromise my own values or professional integrity to defend a statement that goes against everything I am and everything I believe.”