Reports: Grindr Sold Users' Location Data for Years

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday May 8, 2022
Originally published on May 3, 2022

Grindr sold users' location data to advertisers for years, reports say. The company claims to have safeguarded users' privacy, but such location data is how a Catholic priest was outed as a user last year, tech publication PC Mag said.

The story was broken by the Wall Street Journal, which noted that while the company did not disclose names or phone numbers, the data the company sold "were in some cases detailed enough to infer things like romantic encounters between specific users based on their device's proximity to one another, as well as identify clues to people's identities such as their workplaces and home addresses based on their patterns, habits and routines."

The sale of location data was intended to create "hyper-specific ads about restaurants, hotspots, and other venues right down the street from" users in real time, Los Angeles Magazine reported.

"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," LA Magazine said.

A spokesperson for the dating app, Patrick Lenihan, told the WSJ that "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."

The potential for abuse of such information has caught the attention of American authorities, who have expressed worry that foreign entities might exploit data of this sort and pose a national security risk, UK newspaper the Daily Mail noted.

"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," the Daily Mail recalled.

But for the average user, especially in anti-LGBTQ+ countries, the danger is much more personal.

"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," LA Magazine explained.

"In 2021, Pillar, a Catholic publication, procured 'commercially available data that allowed it to track Grindr usage by individuals,'" the article went on to say. "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."

The stream of user location data was sold over and over again, PC Mag noted, illustrating how "the data collected by many popular apps constantly makes its way through winding chains of custody.... These are billion-dollar businesses that peddle in data about people who've probably never heard of them."

Though Grindr says it no longer sells such detailed information about its users locations, it does continue to vend "'general device location (such as device country/region/city)' to its advertising partners," PC Mag reported, "and says it 'works both with third party Ad Partners [...] and with several partners to provide ads and product promotions within our own services.'"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.