Grindr says it will stop sharing users’ HIV status with third parties

Gay hookup app Grindr has said it will stop sharing information about the HIV status of its users, following a report that the company was providing private data to third-party analytics firms.

The data sharing with two companies Apptimize and Localytics was first uncovered by Norwegian non-profit SINTEF, and subsequently reported by BuzzFeed. It was argued that, because Grindr shared users' HIV information and "last tested date" alongside GPS data, phone ID and email, it could be possible for individuals' HIV status to be identified.

Grindr responded on Monday that it would stop sharing users' HIV status with any third-party companies. Speaking to BuzzFeed, the company's chief security officer Bryce Case said that HIV data had been shared with Apptimize only as part of Grindr's rollout procedure for new features; in this case an opt-in feature that would allow users to get reminders for HIV tests.

According to Case, the second company Localytics is "a software program that we use to analyse our own behaviour [] it's being conflated with Cambridge Analytica. This is just something we use for internal tooling."

While Case said he would "not admit fault" to sharing information regarding users' HIV status with Localytics, the company will nevertheless stop sharing data "based on the reaction a misunderstanding of technology to allay people's fears".

In a statement, chief technology officer Scott Chen wrote that sharing data with analytics companies is an "industry standard", and that the inclusion of HIV status information was "always regarded carefully with our users' privacy in mind":

"Grindr has never, nor will we ever sell personally identifiable user information especially information regarding HIV status or last test date to third parties or advertisers."

Online rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Grindr's response "disappointing", and accused the company of "leaking users' GPS locations over plaintext and sharing users' HIV status with companies".

In a tweet, US senator Ed Markey suggested that greater care needed to be taken when handling information about individuals' HIV status: "Privacy isn't just about credit card numbers and passwords. Sharing sensitive information like this can put LGBT Americans at risk."