Gay dating app Grindr has had something of a rough time of late.
First it was identified as a national security risk by the U.S. government, who are forcing its Chinese owners to sell it.
Then there’s the myriad issues with user privacy, including exposing users’ exact location, sharing the HIV status of users with other companies, and allowing an unaffiliated website to show users’ who had blocked them.
Grindr’s president, Scott Chen, become embroiled in controversy when he made comments against same-sex marriage — and Grindr’s online magazine offshoot INTO was shut down after it came out against the comments.
Plus, the app is being exploited to lure gay and bisexual men into traps where they’re beaten, robbed, and even killed.
And if that wasn’t enough, now a former employee has compared Grindr’s corporate structure to working in the Trump White House — which, if you’ve been conscious for the last two-and-a-half years, isn’t a flattering comparison.
LA Magazine spoke to a number of current and former employees about the app, which has been owned by Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech since 2016.
They expressed a myriad of concerns, including the replacing of a number of LGBTQ employees with heterosexual workers, worries about user data being exposed to the Chinese government, and, according to Landen Zumwalt, Grindr’s former head of communications, an operating culture that rivals the current White House.
“There was this small group of people inside Grindr who wanted to leave, but we were too fearful of what might happen if we did,” Zumwalt said. “I used to balk when I heard that from Trump people, and I still do, but that was a reality I was living with day-to-day.”
He added: “I left because I didn’t want to be their Sarah Sanders anymore.”
Landen Rafe Zumwalt — Photo: Facebook
Zumwalt famously quit after Grindr president Scott Chen said marriage is between one man and one woman.
“There are people who believe that marriage is a holy matrimony between a man and a woman. I agree but that’s none of our business,” Chen wrote on his Facebook page last year.
Chen later apologized, but Zumwalt resigned his position at the company, saying, “As an out and proud gay man madly in love with a man I don’t deserve, I refused to compromise my own values or professional integrity to defend a statement that goes against everything I am and everything I believe.”
According to one employee who spoke to LA Magazine, Chen’s comments weren’t an isolated incident.
“Over time, as people have left, they’ve been replaced by straight people,” the employee said. “Today Scott likes to use the phrase: ‘We’re not an LGBT company anymore. We serve LGBT users.’”
Other employees raised concerns about the sale of Grindr to Kunlun, and what it meant for user data. Bryce Case Jr., former head of information security, said that Chen was taking privacy less seriously, choosing to focus on streamlining and cutting costs at the expense of privacy features like end-to-end chat encryption.
He noted that, because Kunlun is based in China, the government can request access to its servers. Case said it “wouldn’t be hard at all for a government to scrape data on Grindr that reveals identities and location.”
However, LA Magazine noted that sensitive images (read: dick pics) are mostly safe, as they’re stored locally on users’ devices and only temporarily on servers owned by Amazon. Unless the Chinese government demanded access to those servers, it can’t see users’ photos.
Kunlun is being forced to sell Grindr after the U.S. government earlier this year deemed its ownership a national security risk.
Speculation rife 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.
Kunlun has until June 2020 to sell Grindr.
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