“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 | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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