Grindr stops sharing HIV status with other companies

Grindr for iPhone

Grindr will no longer share users' HIV statuses with third parities after BuzzFeed reported the popular dating app shared sensitive information with two outside vendors.

Grindr reached out to users via a blog post, saying it was clearly marked in its privacy policy that users who choose to include HIV information in their profile, should be aware the information could also become public.

According a report from BuzzFeed News, the company is sharing user data with two other companies - data that includes email addresses, Global Positioning System data, phone IDs, and HIV statuses.

Because the HIV information is sent together with users' Global Positioning System data, phone ID, and email, it could identify specific users and their HIV status, according to Antoine Pultier, a researcher at the Norwegian nonprofit SINTEF, which first identified the issue.

On Monday, BuzzFeed News cited research done by Antoine Pultier of the Norwegian group SINTEF, which found that, because all of these data points are transferred, Grindr users could easily be identified. The dating app is said to have more than 3.6 million active users worldwide. "As the testing of our feature is completed, any information related to HIV status has been removed from Apptimize and we are in the process of discussing removal of this data from Localytics". The company says the firms are under "strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security and user privacy".

In response, Grindr released a statement assuring its users that it will never sell personally identifiable user information to third parties or advertisers, explaining its sharing of this data as "industry standard practise".

But HIV and online privacy advocates said that the practice was an "egregious breach" of users' trust, both because they weren't notified that their information was being shared and because storing the information in more places means that it will be stolen.

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"It is up to each user to determine what, if anything, to share about themselves in their profile", Grindr said in a statement.

"Thousands of companies use these highly-regarded platforms".

Grindr recently rolled out a feature that reminds users to get tested for HIV.

Grindr was quick to hit back at the allegations though, telling BuzzFeed that data sharing is "standard" in the industry and highlighted the fact that the app has always been a "public forum". It noted that some of the information (not including one's HIV status) was being shared in easily hackable plain text - including a user's Global Positioning System location, gay subculture, sexuality, relationship status, ethnicity and phone ID.

News of Grindr's sharing HIV information first appeared on Buzzfeed. Most HIV-infected individuals in China are drug users. Nonetheless, the public outcry has compelled Grindr to change its policies regarding this sensitive data.

The news follows Grindr's fix of a security flaw that allowed users to see who has blocked them. The contractors are Apptimize and Localytics, companies that work to optimize the performance of apps such as Grindr.

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