Grindr’s Data Sharing Problem Is Bigger Than Grindr
It’s a sad, universally recognized truth that an app on your phone has to run out of profit, and its creator will often rely on ads to earn that money. It is also true that these advertisements rely on rat-king-esque partnership networks to surface this digital money. At best, this mess means that billions of dollars disappear from corporate advertising budgets every year. At worst, you discover that the world’s most popular queer dating app has been unwittingly passing location data to its customer base for years, as Grindr users discovered on Monday via The Wall Street Journal.
Citing two people familiar with the matter, the Journal reported that the locations of countless Grindr users – which include millions of gay, bi and trans people around the world – have been available for purchase since “at least 2017”. , according to the report.
According to Journal sources, one of the company’s former advertising partners, MoPub (which was sold by Twitter earlier this year), freely passed location data from tens of thousands of apps that use location-based information to monetize. At one time, that included Grindr. Once in the hands of MoPub, the Journal alleges that this data was sold, in bulk, to other partners, such as Near (formerly UM, and formerly Previously known as UberMedia). And Near offered this data to almost everyone. Because data privacy laws in the United States are vague and chaotic where it exists, Near can pawn data from its upstream partners in the open. You, dear reader, could buy it yourself.
“Grindr has shared less information with advertising partners than any of the major technology platforms and most of our competitors, limiting the information we share to IP address, advertising ID and basic information. required to support ad delivery,” Grindr spokesperson Patrick Lenihan noted. in a public statement.
With all due respect to Lenihan, that bar is extremely low. So-called “anonymous” data points such as an ad ID or IP address can easily be tied to a specific device and the person who owns that device. By using “anonymous” data like this, advertisers can accurately guess your exercise routine, your favorite tracks, your immigration status And much more.
While offering location data to advertising partners is a deplorable, albeit common, practice, the stakes with Grindr are particularly high; about a year ago, reports have emerged that location data collected from the app was used to identify a Catholic priest. The priest resignedand Catholic journalists wrung their hands on the ill-gotten data source.
Grindr denied any wrongdoing at the time and pointed out in a statement to Gizmodo that the company had shut down access to its users’ location data since 2020. But the Journal’s report and the laundry list advertising partners that Grindr has used to monetize over the years add to the growing scrutiny the company faces.
Even the data used to take out the priest was anonymized, legally speaking, but the intermediaries were able to link the device using Grindr to a certain priest using Grindr because the device was seen frequenting the priest’s residence and the lake house.
Were these data points from Near? From MoPub? From an affiliated party? It’s literally impossible to tell; ad networks are notoriously dense and opaque, even in states like California, which now has the strongest data privacy law in the United States. Again, it’s a fairly low bar. As a spokesperson for Near told the Journal, “every entity in the ad ecosystem has access to information shared by Grindr and all other apps that use the real-time bidding system.” This is the norm in the adtech world.
Does the blame in this case lie with Grindr? Absolutely. But this is also due to a system that manages your anonymity without worry. Currently, if you have enough money, you can buy location data from cell towers, satellites, retailers and countless applications which could inadvertently reveal someone’s sexuality. And until the LGBT+ community stops being viewed as a juicy market for ad targeting, people will continue to buy that data, and they will continue to do with it what they want, legally. And that means no one, queer or otherwise, is safe.
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