News, Culture & Society

Millions of Grindr users have had their precise location data sold to advertisers

A popular gay dating app is catching heat after precise location data for millions of users was collected from a digital advertising network and sold to outside parties.

Grindr – which touts itself as the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, transgender and queer individuals – is one of several platforms prompting concern among national security officials.

Data collected from the app, which has millions of users, was used as part of a demonstration by the U.S. government detailing the intelligence risks of commercially available information, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Although the information did not disclose names or phone numbers, experts allege some of the data was detailed enough that one could make inferences about a person’s identity and romantic partners. 

Analysts claim location data of Grindr users had been sold to advertisers since at least 2017. While the app has updated its privacy settings to prevent this data from becoming accessible, many allege users’ historical data may still be obtainable.

In a statement to DailyMail.com, Grindr spokesperson Patrick Lenihan denied that the app shared users’ ‘precise location’, and has shared less information with ad partners since 2020.

‘We do not share user profile information, and we do not share even industry standard data like age or gender,’ he said.

Grindr is catching heat after precise location data for millions of users was collected from a digital advertising network and sold to outside parties

Mobile advertising company clients have been able to purchase phone movement data of Grindr users in bulk for many years. 

People familiar with the data told the Wall Street Journal that a user’s address and workplace could be identified by analysis of their patterns, habits and routines.

Similarly, one could make inferences about a user’s romantic partners based on the proximity of their device to that of another user’s device.

App executives reportedly believed sharing real-time location data with advertising networks was not a privacy concern, but instead would allow users to receive targeted ads about nearby restaurants, bars or hotels – something that could be arguably beneficial to singles looking for new date ideas.

Advertising industry officials said the purchased location data would be used for target ads and to reshape marketing budgets, Grindr executives allege. It is unclear if the execs knew the data would be accessible to other parties. 

In a statement, Grindr spokesperson Patrick Lenihan told DailyMail.com 

‘Grindr users value privacy, and we have put our users’ privacy first even when it meant lower revenue. The activities that have been described would not be possible with Grindr’s current privacy practices, which we’ve had in place for two years,’ he said. 

The statement added that since early 2020, the app shared less information with ad partners than any other big tech platform and its competitors, ‘restricting the information we share to IP address, advertising ID and the basic information necessary to support ad delivery’. 

Although the information did not disclose names or phone numbers, experts allege some of the data was detailed enough that one could make inferences about a person's identity and romantic partners

Although the information did not disclose names or phone numbers, experts allege some of the data was detailed enough that one could make inferences about a person’s identity and romantic partners

Analysts claim location data of Grindr users had been sold to advertisers since at least 2017

Analysts claim location data of Grindr users had been sold to advertisers since at least 2017

‘Since early 2020, Grindr has shared less information with ad partners than any of the big tech platforms and most of our competitors,’ a Lenihan told The Wall Street Journal. 

‘The activities that have been described would not be possible with Grindr’s current privacy practices, which we’ve had in place for two years.’

He also noted that the company has taken hits, such as lesser ad quality and lower revenue, by reducing the data shared.

Most apps participate in real-time ad exchanges that provide user data to 

Location data is obtained in a computerized bidding process that takes places in just milliseconds. The highest bidding advertiser will then receive access to the data.

Experts claim consumers are often unaware of the process, which occurs nearly every time they load and app or webpage.

However, Grindr is designed to encourage users to share their location data so they can better utilize the app.  

Some allege that Grindr sharing its location data could pose risks to its users, specifically those in countries where being gay is illegal and could result in prosecution or punishment.

The app claims it doesn’t serve ads in those particular countries, keeping users’ information off of advertising exchanges.

While the app has updated its privacy settings to prevent this data from becoming accessible, many allege users' historical data may still be obtainable

While the app has updated its privacy settings to prevent this data from becoming accessible, many allege users’ historical data may still be obtainable

Other experts cited concerns that Grindr users who have not yet come out as gay could face threats of blackmail from those who obtain their data.

For example, the U.S. government reportedly forced a Chinese company off of Grindr in 2019, alleging national security grounds, blackmail risk and the potential that Beijing could use the app’s data for surveillance purposes.

And, as recently as last year, a senior official with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops resigned from his role after being approached about data identifying him as a user on the app.

The official’s resignation came after The Pillar, a Catholic publication, obtained commercially available data allowing it to track individual’s Grindr usage.

Grindr officials, at the time, stated they did not believe the app was the source of the data obtained by The Pillar, but reportedly acknowledged it was ‘theoretically possible’ an advertising partner may have collected the information.

The Pillar did not respond to requests for comment. 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk