Gay dating app Grindr says it shared HIV status of users

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Since the HIV info is sent along with a user's Global Positioning System data, phone ID and email, the details could also specify users and their HIV status, per Norwegian nonprofit researcher Antoine Pultier of SINTEF.

"There was no reason for them to be storing that data with these analytics companies in the first place", Cooper Quintin, senior staff technologist and security researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told BuzzFeed News.

The company made a decision to stop sharing the information with Localytics "based on the reaction - a misunderstanding of technology - to allay people's fears", chief security officer Bryce Case told BuzzFeed News. The company says the firms are under "strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security and user privacy".

Grindr's chief technology officer Scott Chen told BuzzFeed News that no user data was sold on to third-parties and that Grindr pays other software companies to use their services.

"There is a major difference between a company like Grindr sharing encrypted data with a software vendor to debug its app, and having it harvested from an outside third party like Cambridge Analytica, which is not what is happening here", Case said.

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These aren't advertising companies but rather services for testing and improving mobile apps - Grindr isn't selling them this data or anything. It will happen when the app's next update is released, he said.

Grindr reached out to users via a blog post, saying it was clearly marked in its privacy policy that users who choose to include HIV information in their profile, should be aware the information could also become public.

Both firms receive some of the data that Grindr users elect to include in their profiles including their HIV status, the last date they were tested for HIV and whether or not they are taking the medication known as "PrEP", a drug that lowers your risk of contracting HIV.

The app said the data - including when users were last tested - was not shared with advertisers. That means other malicious groups or governments may have been able to acquire that sensitive information about Grindr's users, too.

Case said that Grindr's situation is much different from Facebook's, noting that the goal was strictly for debugging the app.

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"Grindr and similar app providers must urgently audit their data security measures, come clean about any issues and fix them immediately".

Chen added that it is up to each user to determine what, if anything, to share about themselves in their profile and the inclusion of HIV status information within the platform is always regarded carefully with users' privacy in mind. C*ckblocked was then able to access users' personal data, including private messages, identifying info and Global Positioning System location data, even for users who had switched off location services.

Grindr insists its sole objective for sharing highly sensitive health information is an effort to better the app.

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