“Grindr” gay smartphone app turns off “distance” option in face of privacy concerns

UPDATE: Grindr has turned the location functionality back on, and there’s no indication that they’ve made any other changes to their system. Grindr’s only statement on this ongoing problem: “We do not view this as a security flaw.” I suspect gay men living under threat of stoning to death in Brunei might feel differently.
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The popular gay smartphone app “Grindr” has turned off its “show your distance” option, apparently in response to concerns raised last week by privacy advocates.

Grindr, an app used by gay men to meet other gay men (for dating, finding friends, or just hooking up), uses your location to find other Grindr subscribers in your area. Users are given the option of showing how many feet, meters, miles or kilometers they are away from the other users. Because the app doesn’t show which direction you are from the other user, it was considered to be relatively safe.

That was until an anonymous Grindr user in Europe found a way to easily identify the near-exact location of any Grindr user anywhere in the world.

Using the security glitch, the exact location of over 630,157 Grindr users were located in 131 countries, including 622 in Egypt, 349 in Iran, 2,311 in Russia, 753 in China, 333 in Iraq, 926 in Turkey, 29 in Saudi Arabia, 134 in the UAE, 30 in Qatar, 228 in the West Bank, and incredibly, 134 unique Grindr users were located in North Korea, the most oppressive state in the world.

Here’s an interactive map, created by the anonymous good Samaritan, totalling all the Grindr users exposed in just one week:

grindr-users-identified

The other day I found every Grindr user (online) in Iran, a country in which gays are reportedly put to death, and then found the exact locations of everyone online in Tehran.

A look at the exact locations of 100s of Grindr  users across Iran.

A look at the exact locations of 100s of Grindr users across Iran.

And here’s a look at the specific locations of some 50 gay Grindr subscribers in Tehran. I have intentionally zoomed out, as the zoomed in view would show you the exact street corner they’re on.

tehran-small

Why would the exact location of a gay person be a problem?

1. If you live in a rural area, they know exactly who you are.

2. There are still parts of America, and the world, in which it’s not safe to be gay.

3. What if it’s a gay teen who’s not out to his parents?

4. Russia, Iran, Africa. North fricking Korea!

A report from Egypt claims that the government there, along with the government of Iran, are using Grindr to find gays, who they then arrest.

Egyptian government spies are using dating apps, including Grindr, to catch gays and lesbians in the act, CairoScene can reveal.

A source close to the gay and lesbian community claims that the apps are putting the country’s homosexuals in danger.

“It’s a bad system right now,” he said. “There have been a number of arrests in the last few months linked to these applications. They are using technology to triangulate the location.

“It is possible to tell a user’s position within a few hundred metres, and many users include personal pictures, making them easily identifiable to cops.

Grindr’s only official comment on the controversy was to suggest last week that the security glitch was in fact a feature that Grindr was proud to defend.

Last night, however, the anonymous Grindr user who initially discovered the security breach informed that Grindr had apparently turned off its “distance” option, no longer making it clear what exact distance users were from each other. In fact, he is correct.

It would seem that Grindr may have finally started to get the message. Time will tell.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • I’ve now been in 57 states?

    I guess that F A G S sucking each other off in Bathroom stalls using the F A G finder app is over.

  • rerutled

    Rename ‘grindr’ as ‘findr’.

  • The_Fixer

    One thing that Grindr could do to partially mitigate this problem is to use an encrypted connection. Store location data in an encrypted database, send data back to the user encrypted. From a technical standpoint, it’s not perfect. However, it’s as close as one can hope to get. It would at least keep anyone from raiding the database and getting information that way. I am really almost shocked that it wasn’t designed that way from the start. Almost shocked, there are a lot of shortcuts they take in the software writing world, all with the intent of “fixing it later.” Guess when “later” comes? Yeah, it comes when they are forced to fix it.

    Even doing that does not eliminate the possibility of a disingenuous account holder using the application to “hunt gays”, whether they be a government entity or someone like the Russian creeps that torture gays. No matter what, the user has to be told the ramifications of that scenario. Grindr absolutely should provide that information to its potential users in places where being gay is dangerous or illegal. Let these people know what geolocation is and how it can be shut off. Let the potential user weigh the risks of using the app as-is, but he should be educated about this.

    If the people that run Grindr are so unaware of the ramifications of essentially broadcasting one’s location in, say, Nigeria or Ethiopia, then one has to question their own connectedness – to the real world.

    I’m really glad that I never got tempted to try it. These people are not deserving of my trust, and using an app like Grindr requires a certain amount of trust in the people running the show.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    As I remarked in the other thread…yeah, we have stupid people doing stupid things. The problem is we have psycho capitalists egging them on, claiming their products (in this case Grindr) when used as intended actually make the users SAFER.

    It’s not at all unlike the way tobacco companies used to claim cigarettes were good for your health.

    Instead of drawing attention to the potential dangers of advertising your location and mentioning, “Oh yeah, we’re sure to have people, including law enforcement in your country, sign up for our service and we have no way of determining if someone is actually gay. It’s not our fault if they use our service as it was designed to be used to track you down and arrest you and/or commit acts of violence against you.”

    In countries like Egypt, Iran, Brunei, Saudi Arabia and these other places, Grindr isn’t advising their users, “You really should shut off the location finder because you’re putting yourself in danger, and also pretty much admitting to a crime according to the laws in your country.” Or better still, disable the location thing and GPS functions in those places. Instead, they continue to defend their ‘product’ as if it’s perfectly safe.

  • nicho

    Apparently, for some people with stunted social skills it does.

  • nicho

    I never said that. Please don’t put words in my mouth. Thank you. It’s a little thing called discretion. There is no need to be on Grindr. That’s not what makes you “gay,” despite the fact some people seem to be addicted to it. Millions of people have very active social and sexual lives without it. There’s no need to endanger your life to play round online. In fact, gay social life in all countries would be better without most of these stupid online hookup sites. Maybe people would actually go out and talk to each other, instead of trading lies about their “stats” and thinking they have a social life.

  • Rambie

    The smart ones will look into how this Grindr bug (Yes, I’m calling it a bug) works and work to lock down their system.

  • S. Parilla

    “Don’t use an app that will broadcast your location to anyone that has the (now easy) ability to find you if you live in an anti-gay area” != “don’t be gay”.

  • Drew2u

    If hackers really wanted to cause havoc, they’d have busted into Sallie Mae and forgive all student loans :p

  • Drew2u

    It really depends on how easy it would be to copy that grindr site and apply that code to the other location-based services. I seriously doubt that other Location-Based-Services Businesses are going to voluntarily change their product because some other LBS was exposed.
    IF we, as a public, want this kind of behavior changed, then this method of location exposure needs to be demonstrated across a large swath of LBSes.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I said the guy said it shouldn’t be just limited to Grindr. So yeah I’d be curious how the other services are.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It is hard. “If you’re gay and live in a world that doesn’t accept gay people, don’t be gay.” Good luck with that :)

  • nicho

    If you live in an anti-gay dictatorship, don’t join gay hookup sites. If you’re a celebrity, don’t take naked pictures of yourself with your phone and store them online. How hard is that?

  • caphillprof

    I wonder if they turned off yours and not mine?

  • Drew2u

    But in your earlier post, you said that this isn’t limited to Grindr, it’s all location-based services whether it be a hookup site or not. Unfortunately this problem is much bigger than just Grindr, though I give them full credit for fixing the problem. Business are, despite the Supreme Court trying to humanize them, amoral and it is up for journalists to shed light and the public to hold them accountable.

  • CrissCross

    Disabling the distance thingumy might make it safer to use, but in truth the more repressive regimes try to know what is being downloaded to which IP address & who’s IP it is.
    Just downloading Grindr or logging onto the Grindr servers should be sufficient to spark attention from the shadows up top in some countries.

  • Indigo

    You’re right. Gay.com works just fine and if a first meet-up at the coffee counter at Barnes&Noble isn’t good enough, then I’m not interested anyhow. :-)

  • kingstonbears

    Just a thought. If there is concern about safety why not use another “dating” service such as Gay.com? I asked a younger colleague yesterday about this and his reply was that Grindr was used because of the distance option, and note that it supposedly is an option. He continued that the reason for using Grindr was that you knew the location of who you were “chatting” with and if they were in your area that connecting was a possibility. Like Indigo I’m much to old to use Grindr or any other dating service, just passing on what was shared with me. And please be careful when setting up meets!!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    They got the message that they had a PR problem. It remains to be seen if they fully understand how dangerous all of this is, and how dangerous it is to their brand if their product ends up harming gay men in North Korea, Brunei, Nigeria, Russia and Egypt.

  • Indigo

    Grindr got the message? Maybe so, but their pattern puts me in mind of trendy clothing brands, Lululemon yoga togs comes to mind along with the Abercrombie Conglomerate, responding to criticism that they were elitist and exclusionary by insisting that their fashions are only for the very fit and the very attractive. The imprint I got from Grindr-Hype left me with that same sense of alienation. I’m too old, too poor, too plain to qualify for the Grindr-Whirl. That’s fine, they’re too shallow to swim with me in deep water.

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