Queer Voices

Research Shows Location Tracking Apps Like Grindr Could Threaten Your Privacy


There are apps to help us with everything from dating to scheduling to networking. But is the technology more trouble than it’s worth? While your app’s location tracking services can point you to the best latte within a one-mile radius or give you directions to your friend’s apartment, this useful feature may be a double-edged sword.

According to research from cyber security firm Synack, poorly-coded apps that use location services can easily reveal a user’s daily movements to unintended audiences. Grindr, which came under fire last year for failing to fix a bug that allegedly helped Egyptian authorities enforce anti-gay laws, was a notable offender, according to security research engineer Colby Moore.

“Our case study we did was in San Francisco. We were able to see the locations of around 15,000 users,” he told HuffPost Live host Nancy Redd on Wednesday. “The issue here was, early on, Grindr actually didn’t respect user settings within the app to not show the location. Even though you thought you weren’t showing your location, your location was still being shared with Grindr servers, and an attacker could still query and find out where you are.”

While Nula O’Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, urged users to be diligent about releasing their personal information, she argued that companies and governments should play a role as well.

“If companies want us to engage in a fully active digital life, they bear the responsibility of building good systems and making clear promises and being very transparent about how the data is being used,” she said. “Governments bear some responsibility to restrain themselves in the use of that information and to create good frameworks and expectations for this ecosystem.”

Update (1/29): Grindr issued the following statement to The Huffington Post:

“We are continuing to evaluate user feedback on this core functionality of the application. We will continue to evolve and improve the operation of the application based on considerations of security and functionality and provide our users the tools and information they need to make informed decisions about the use of the Grindr application. Grindr encourages any user who has a concern about his location privacy to disable the sharing of his distance in Grindr settings.”

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about apps and cyber security here.

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