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How Grindr Sold User Data Through Ad Networks

Updated: May 12, 2023

How Grindr Sold User Data Through Ad Networks

A report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) stunned readers by claiming that the gay dating app Grindr might have sold user data to third parties. It stated that the hush-hush affair could have occurred over at least three years (2017 to early 2020).

Grindr is the most popular networking app for the LGBTQ community and intends to provide a secure platform where they can chat and plan dates discreetly. Statista shows the app has over 3.8 million daily active users globally.

So, should users hit the panic button? Let’s find out how advertising services, digital marketing, data selling, Grindr, and internet advertising combined to give the platform’s users a raw deal.

How Deep Does the Rabbit Hole Go?

The WSJ article reveals that UberMedia, MoPub’s advertising services network partner, sold “precise” customer location data. UberMedia has long practiced targeted advertising using location data, so they sold the data to ad networks.

If it’s any consolation, they say that the data does not include personal details, such as names or phone numbers. The sold data ensured targeted users received location-based advertising, a noble cause.

However, the ad networks utilizing the data contain a host of advertisers and digital marketing agencies who can access current information about a user’s location.

Grindr shut down the operation in 2020, but experts indicate that data sold could contain advertising profiles that still exist and are still relevant.

The company claimed that limiting the amount of data given came at a cost, including reduced income and less desired user ads. As you can see, Grindr suffered immensely.

Is Data Selling as Bad as It Gets?

It’s a requirement for users to enable location to find a match for nearby dates. The WSJ investigation found that studying your trends, habits, and routines could reveal where you live and work. Small wonder Mozilla Foundation slapped privacy not included a sticker on the app.

At this point, older users must have felt a sense of déjà vu. That’s because the app has a checkered history of privacy issues.

Security experts showed that they could locate any Grindr user, irrespective of their privacy settings.

They could achieve that using two Grindr accounts as a method of triangulation, thanks to how it manages location data. That has happened twice—2014 and 2020.

Similarly, a third party may work out your love interest based on how close another user’s device is to your own.

Some analysts expressed concerns about the possibility of blackmail attempts against Grindr members who have not yet come out openly as gay.

Case in point: Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a senior Catholic priest, was outed following a data leak. That exposed him as a Grindr user, thanks to the analysis of the advertising services data.

The Pillar, a Catholic publication, said they acquired information from a data selling platform that placed the priest in several bathhouses, gay bars, and private residences.

Analysis of the app data signals showed he used a location-based app (read Grindr) to hook up in several cities between 2018 and 2020. He resigned in 2021, but thankfully, he’s back in service.

That’s not all.

In 2018, it emerged Grindr allowed third-party companies to access users’ location data after revealing their HIV status.

There’s more.

Grindr’s password reset page leaked access tokens in 2020. The company also received a reduced $7 million fine in a data privacy case in Norway in 2021 after illegally disclosing user data to advertisers. Lucky for us, Grindr says it does not share with ad networks in countries where LGBTQ+ activities are illegal.

Final Word - Cause for Concern?

Grindr is free. They have to make money somehow.

Considering the app’s users in the US have an 18% higher median household income than average, spend 30% more on recreational activity, and spend about 61 minutes on the app daily, it’s foolhardy not to expect them to sell data.

It’s almost a given that digital marketing players are shoving tons of cash at Grindr, prodding them into selling user data, so customers beware.

We understand the need to create a safe environment when it comes to businesses dealing with personal data. The need to comply with all the various data privacy laws around the world and to collect consent.

Here, at Adzapier, we provide solutions that fit within and build upon the current landscape with the flexibility to adapt and reform to succeed in this shifting privacy landscape.

Our priority for our clients (publishers, advertisers, brands) is to maintain full transparency when it comes to privacy compliance.

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