Experts had greeted with enthusiasm efforts from the self-proclaimed world’s largest gay dating app to promote regular HIV testing and status disclosure — but the effort backfired badly with the revelation that Grindr was sharing the data, prompting calls for a boycott.
The West Hollywood, California-based dating app, which claims 3.6 million daily active users globally, on Monday confirmed that it had been sharing users’ personal data — including HIV status — with third-party software vendors.
The revelation dovetails with a furor over lax personal data protection at Facebook.
The social media giant has come under withering scrutiny since it became known that a British consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested tens of millions of its users’ personal data to create voter profiles for then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Grindr chief technology officer Scott Chen (陳俊仰) sought to distance the dating app’s public relations mishap from the Facebook scandal, calling the sharing no more than “industry standard practice.”
He said Apptimize and Localytics, the companies that used Grindr’s data, were simply tasked with software optimization and “under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security and user privacy.”
However, a wave of advocacy organizations and users have said the revelations are a serious violation of trust and privacy — with some worrying the news could undercut recommendations from HIV prevention experts to regularly get tested and disclose HIV status with potential sexual partners.
French HIV advocacy group AIDES called for boycotting Grindr in light of the news — but emphasized that sharing HIV status on a dating app before meeting can “allow HIV-positive people to avoid a possible rejection when they announce it verbally,” helping to “normalize the perception and image of HIV-positive people.”
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation called Grindr’s data sharing “an egregious breach of confidentiality laws,” demanding that it “immediately cease and desist the reckless practice.”
“It is extremely unfortunate that those men who have been courageous enough to share their HIV status, be it positive or negative, on their Grindr profiles, may have now had that most personal data indiscriminately shared by Grindr,” foundation president Michael Weinstein said.
Dan Wohlfeiler, a public health expert who directs Building Healthy Online Communities, said open conversations about HIV are vital — and “apps play a key role in helping those conversations happen.”
“We also hope that apps help users make informed decisions as to how their data are being kept safe,” he added.
Electronic Privacy Information Center law fellow Natasha Babazadeh said that Grindr must be transparent about how it is using the data or risk losing consumer trust.
“Just as users have begun deleting their Facebook accounts after the Cambridge Analytica controversy, dating app users will similarly delete or extensively restrict their use of such apps,” she said in a statement. “If corporations fail to protect their users’ data, they will face the ramifications, legally, financially and socially.”
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