Grindr, the gay hookup app that lets you find potential partners based on your phone’s location, has been selling user data “for years,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
The movements of its users—which the app tracks to let them know when they are close to one other and may want to meet up—were gathered from a digital advertising network and put up for sale.
The information was available for purchase since at least 2017, and historical data may still be obtainable. Grindr stanched the gushing of location data to ad networks two years ago, meaning no data collection is possible today, although historical data may still be available. In 2017, the app had 27 million users, according to Reuters.
How was the sold data used? In one example, according to the Journal sources, clients of a mobile-advertising company “have for years been able to purchase bulk phone-movement data that included many Grindr users.”
And while the data that was purchased didn’t include names or phone numbers, the information that came from Grindr was sometimes specific enough to assume romantic liaisons between users based on their mobile devices’ proximity. The data also had enough detail to reveal parts of individuals’ identities, like where they work, and their home addresses. These details were possible based on the “patterns, habits, and routines” picked up by Grindr’s location software.
But Grindr claims that this is no longer possible now that they’ve cut back on such activities.
“Since early 2020, Grindr has shared less information with ad partners than any of the big tech platforms and most of our competitors,” Patrick Lenihan, a spokesman for Grindr, told the Journal. The company has cut back on the amount of data they share—even paying the price of reduced ad quality and reduced 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,” Lenihan said.
When Grindr initially began sharing its users location data with ad networks, execs didn’t believe it was compromising user privacy, according to Journal sources. Their goal was to create “real-time ad exchanges,” where users would see hyper-specific ads about restaurants, hotspots, and other venues right down the street from them.
Location-tracking data is increasingly ripe for abuse.
When the users in question are gay, queer, or trans—and the information shared is so specific it can be used to reconstruct patterns and details about them—concerns were raised about potential blackmail against those not living openly, or retaliation from anti-gay bigots.
In 2021, Pillar, a Catholic publication, procured “commercially available data that allowed it to track Grindr usage by individuals.” The result, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was that one of its senior officials resigned after he was identified as a user of the app.
In 2021 Norway’s Data Protection Authority fined Grinder 100 million crowns (approximately $10.6 million), or about 10% of Grindr’s estimated global revenue, for selling user data, according to the BBC.
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