SAN FRANCISCO – The gay dating app Grindr says it will stop sharing the HIV status of its users with other companies.
Grindr made the decision late Monday after first defending the practice, which involved sending user profile information – including HIV status and test dates – to two companies called Apptimize and Localytics. They test the performance of Grindr’s products.
Grindr tweeted the following statement:
The news that Grindr would stop sharing HIV information was first reported by Axios and later confirmed by CNNMoney. The company also told CNNMoney that it has already deleted HIV data from Apptimize, and is in the process of removing it from Localytics.
Grindr said earlier Monday that the HIV data is not sold to third parties or used to target advertisers, and Localytics said that it does not share the information it receives from customers like Grindr. Apptimize did not respond to a request for comment.
The data sharing was discovered by researchers at the Norwegian nonprofit group SINTEF. Buzzfeed was the first to report about it Monday.
Grindr has more than 3.5 million users who check the service daily. Individual profiles, which are visible to other people using the app, can include a large amount of personal information.
HIV status is an optional field on the dating app that users can choose to fill out or skip. According to SINTEF’s research, data included in that field was being sent to Apptimize and Localytics, though it was encrypted.
The two companies were also receiving other, less-sensitive data – including location, gender, age and physical type – though that data was not always encrypted, according to SINTEF. Third-party advertisers were receiving some of that data, too, the nonprofit said.
Although Grindr later confirmed that it would stop sharing the HIV data, it at first defended its practices in a statement released Monday afternoon.
“The inclusion of HIV status information within our platform is always regarded carefully with our users’ privacy in mind, but like any other mobile app company, we too must operate with industry standard practices to help make sure Grindr continues to improve for our community,” said Grindr’s chief technology officer Scott Chen.
He added, though, that the app is still a public forum.
Localytics, meanwhile, said that it does not “automatically” collect a Grindr user’s personal information. The app-marketing company added that all the data it does receive is stored securely in accordance with industry standards.
The news comes one week after Grindr announced a new feature that would encourage users to get tested regularly for HIV. The opt-in feature was lauded by some HIV health experts at the time, including Professor Perry Halkitis, dean of Rutgers University School of Public Health.
“I was thrilled when they were doing that,” Halkitis said Monday. “This absolutely dampens my enthusiasm.”
Halkitis works with similar data in his research. He said that he uses strict safeguards to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. For example, he does not transfer the data electronically.
He added that HIV status can be used to discriminate against people in the workplace, at school, for housing and in health care.