Because HIV information is sent alongside users' Global Positioning System data, phone ID, and email, an individual's status could easily be discovered, Antoine Pultier, a researcher at the Norwegian nonprofit SINTEF, told BuzzFeed. Because the HIV info is shared along with Global Positioning System data, phone IDs, and email addresses, it makes it possible to link specific Grindr users with their health condition. "What stood out the most from these discussions is just how often we heard about the intense anxieties users had about bringing up sexual health when they were chatting on the app", Grindr said at the time.
Nic Holas, co-founder of HIV advocacy group The Institute of Many, told Junkee that "we want to get to a place where sharing your HIV status with the world isn't an issue".
Users on Grindr are given the option to share their HIV status along with the time they were last tested - an option backed, the company said, by LGBTQ groups and worldwide health organisations. Apptimize bills its service as helping companies "make better apps", and Localytics says its goal is "to help customers build stronger relationships with their mobile and web app users through our analytics and marketing platform".
"The limited information shared with these platforms is done under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security, and user privacy".
In his original statement, Grindr's CTO Scott Chen denied that the company "sells" user data, and said that the information that was being shared with third-parties is public. Buzzfeed News independently confirmed the allegations by the researchers.
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Bryce Case, Grindr's head of security, said that sharing information with Apptimize and Localytics is "standard industry practice for rolling out and debugging software" and was done securely to test and optimize the app's features, such as HIV testing reminders.
The news comes in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie claimed the personal information of 50m Facebook users had been harvested without their consent and used to target them with personalised adverts using the 2016 US Presidential election.
"The Consumer Council regard this disclaimer as unfortunate, especially when Grindr is transferring sensitive personal data about European users". It's unknown what data these companies actually have access to, but if Grindr's data sharing is any indication, they may have huge amounts of sensitive information, not just from Grindr but other companies too.
The second company, Localytics, is "a software program that we use to analyze our own behavior", Case said. Most HIV-infected individuals in China are drug users.
His website allowed users to see who blocked them on Grindr after they entered their Grindr username and password.
The researchers also found that the app had been sharing other user information such as Global Positioning System location, sexuality, relationship status and phone ID with advertising firms, in some cases not protected by encryption. The importance of transparency becomes incredibly clear in this example, as Grindr is experiencing a public relations nightmare despite having language that at least vaguely covered its practices.