Metro Weekly

Grindr scam “DiCaprio” drained batteries, consumed data plans, and defrauded advertisers

The scam used bogus ads to defraud advertisers, while also affecting the devices of users exposed to it

grindr, dicaprio, data, fraud

Photo: Grindr

Grindr is back in the headlines after the gay dating app was hit by a “sophisticated” fraud scheme that drained users’ batteries, consumed their data plans, and defrauded advertisers.

It comes just weeks after Grindr was found to be exposing users’ LGBTQ status to dozens of advertisers by the Norwegian Consumer Council — which ultimately led to Grindr being suspended from Twitter’s MoPub advertising network.

According to research by Pixalate, which works to detect fraud in advertising, Grindr’s Android app was targeted in a scheme that duped advertisers and affected users exposed to the ads.

The “DiCaprio” scheme, so-called because the word was found in the code of the scam, bought ad banners in Grindr’s Android app, then faked the code of the ad to make it seem like it was actually being shown in one of streaming device company Roku’s video ad slots.

Companies including CBS News, Fox, and PBS bought advertising slots, believing their ads would be show on Roku devices.

Instead, the creators of “DiCaprio” pocketed the money and no ads were ever shown.

Jalal Nasir, CEO of Pixalate, told Buzzfeed News that the scam “is one of the most sophisticated OTT [over-the-top] ad fraud schemes we have seen to date.”

In addition to defrauding advertisers, the banner ads that DiCaprio utilized in Grindr’s Android app affected users that were exposed to them — of which there are over ten million users on Grindr’s Android app alone.

Researchers believe that due to the nature of the DiCaprio scripts, the fake ads being served on Grindr drained users’ batteries and consumed large amounts of data in comparison with normal banner ads.

They also noted that, while the scheme was detected in Grindr’s Android app, the code itself is “OS agnostic,” meaning it was designed to work on both iOS and Android devices.

A Grindr spokesperson told Buzzfeed News that the company wasn’t aware of DiCaprio until it was alerted by Buzzfeed.

“Grindr is committed to creating a safe and secure environment to help our community connect and thrive,” the spokesperson continued. “Any fraudulent activity is a clear violation of our and conditions and something we take very seriously.”

It’s the latest in a series of scandals to hit Grindr, after the company was last year found to be exposing users’ exact location.

In 2018, Grindr was also found to be sharing users’ HIV status with two outside companies, along with data so detailed that it could be used to identify specific users and their HIV status.

And in 2017, 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.

Grindr is now considered a national security risk by the U.S. government, with speculation that it’s due to Grindr’s Chinese ownership and the presence of U.S. military and intelligence personnel on the app.

Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd, Grindr’s owner, has to sell the app by June 2020, after only taking total control of it in 2018.

Last year, a former employee accused Grindr‘s owners of replacing LGBTQ employees with heterosexual workers, and of being run like the Trump administration.

Read more:

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California’s largest LGBTQ organization endorses Pete Buttigieg for president

Ohio judge apologizes for “deplorable” anti-gay letter to the editor that he wrote in college

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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