A new investigation from the Wall Street Journal has shown that from 2017 to 2020, Grindr was selling its users’ data. The investigation revealed that Grindr sold over 13 million users’ data to the highest bidder.
While the data in question didn’t include personal information such as names or phone numbers, it did collect data on location. The exact location while the app was in use, location to other users and significant locations (or regularly visited places) were being collected and sold to advertising and third-party companies.
Grindr has since changed its data policy, deciding in 2020 to stop selling users’ data to advertising and third-party groups going forward. However, some of the data collected from 2017 to 2020 may still be for sale.
In response to Wall Street Journal‘s investigation, Patrick Lenihan, Grindr’s vice president of communications, argued that since amending its policy in 2020, Grindr has been proactive about sharing less data with advertisers than other social media sites.
“Grindr has shared less information with ad partners than any of the big tech platforms and most of our competitors,” Lenihan said. “The activities that have been described [by the Wall Street Journal article] would not be possible with Grindr’s current privacy practices, which we’ve had in place for two years.”
He also claimed that the company has stood by its new policy despite taking a financial hit from not selling off users’ data.
However, adopting the new “minimized” policy does not guarantee that users’ data cannot be accessed. Two notable information breaches have occurred since the changes were enacted. This highlights growing issues of data collection that could, in unsafe hands, cause issues of privacy to increase.
In 2021, a Catholic priest was outed by the Catholic newspaper The Pillar, which used the still available geolocation smartphone data to confirm that the priest had visited gay bars and private residences while using the app.
The newspaper hired a private firm to investigate Jeff Burrill on accounts of “sexual misconduct.” Burrill was found to be using Grindr and was forced to stand down from his job as an administrator for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
That same year, Grindr was fined 6.5 million Norwegian crowns (around 5 million USD) for unlawfully sharing personal data with third parties for marketing purposes but failing to properly inform users how their personal data would be used or potentially shared, thereby nullifying any consent they had given to the company.
In a statement to Metro Weekly, Lenihan noted that Grindr has “shared less information han any of the big tech platforms and most of our competitors, restricting the information we share to IP address, advertising ID, and the basic information necessary to support ad delivery.”
“Grindr users value privacy, and we have put our users’ privacy first even when it meant lower revenue,” Lenihan said, noting that the tradeoffs of reducing data shared with ad partners results in lower ad quality and lower ad revenue.
Lenihan said that “Grindr does not share users’ precise location, we do not share user profile information, and we do not share even industry standard data like age or gender.” He also said the app gives all of its users the choice to control whether they receive personalized advertising, and works with “a limited number of ad partner who we review semiannually against rigorous data privacy and best practice standards.”
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