Grindr was sharing users' location and HIV status with third parties

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A gay dating app will cease disclosing the HIV status of its users to third party companies amid increasing user concern about digital privacy.

"Grindr determined with community feedback it would be beneficial for the health and well-being of our community to give users the option to publish, at their discretion, the user's HIV Status and their Last Tested Date", he said.

Because the information was sent with users' Global Positioning System location, phone number, and email address (which may include a user's government name and employer), the Norwegian nonprofit that sounded the alarm about this said that people's HIV status could be discovered.

On Monday, BuzzFeed News cited research done by Antoine Pultier of the Norwegian group SINTEF, which found that, because all of these data points are transferred, Grindr users could easily be identified. "I think privacy comes first", said Cecilia Chung, a San Francisco Health Commissioner and transgender, HIV awareness advocate.

Grindr was founded in 2009 and now has about 3.6m users worldwide.

The company has since confirmed to Axios that it is no longer sharing information about its users' HIV statuses, and attempted to downplay the issue, saying users' data had been encrypted.

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"As an industry standard practice, Grindr does work with highly regarded vendors to test and optimise how we roll out our platform.

These are standard practices in the mobile app ecosystem", Grindr Chief Technology Officer Scott Chen told BuzzFeed. "We pay these software vendors to utilize their services". This means some data is sent to third-party companies under plain text, BuzzFeed News reports, which is much easier to obtain and read due to its unencrypted nature. That information also includes email and telephone numbers, ethnicity, sexuality and relationship status, as well as Global Positioning System data, which can used to trace a user's location. But users were not informed their HIV status was being shared. Reports emerged last month that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica improperly used information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts, prompting the social network to suspend the United Kingdom -based company.

He added that released HIV data could prove to be the reason for discrimination against HIV positive people in workplaces, at school, for housing and healthcare.

As well as HIV statuses, SINTEF found Grindr transmits a raft of other personal data points to third party ad firms - this time via unencrypted transmissions - namely: precise GPS position, gender, age, "tribe" (aka group-affiliation, e.g. trans, bear), intention (e.g. friends, relationship), ethnicity, relationship status, language and device characteristics.

Trever Faden, CEO of the property management startup Atlas Lane, discovered the exploit after setting up a website called C**kblocked, which allowed users to see who blocked them after they entered their username and password. "If somebody with malicious intent wanted to get that information, now instead of there being one place for that - which is Grindr - there are three places for that information to potentially become public".