Some men who use the gay dating app Grindr felt violated after learning the social network shared users’ HIV statuses, locations and emails with at least two third-party companies, Apptimized and Localytics, even though Grindr announced its intent to stop the practiceThe news raises complicated concerns about communication network protocols, privacy, digital safe spaces for vulnerable groups and public health.

Chief Security Officer Bryce Case argued to Buzzfeed News that Grindr’s practice was being conflated with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytical scandal. “This is just something we use for internal tooling,” Case said. “I will not admit fault in the regard that the data was used.” Case characterized the practice as geared toward improving application functions and not profit motives or ill will. 

When Buzzfeed inquired about harm mitigation through retroactive deletion of the user data shared with Localytics, Case stated, “I don’t have an answer for you at this time. It is something we can look into.”

Cooper Quintin, senior staff technologist and security researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argued that given the highly personal and sensitive nature of this information, Grindr should have handled it more carefully.  

“There was no reason for them to be storing that data with these analytics companies in the first place,” Quintin told BuzzFeed News

As Bloomberg reported, Grindr has since called itself a “public forum” and described the information dissemination as “standard” in the industry. Grindr also argued that it shared the information to help remind users to perform HIV testing.

As both Grindr’s sharing of user health information and Facebook’s admitted perusal of personal messages have shown, digital users should continue to weigh the benefits of connectivity with the risks of exposure in serious ways.

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