In a nod to privacy advocates, the popular gay smartphone app “Grindr” will no longer permit users to show their distance from other users.
Grindr contacted me by email with the following statement:
“In light of recent security allegations surrounding a user’s specific location, Grindr has made modifications to no longer show distance information for users. Grindr will continue to make ongoing changes to keep all users secure, as necessary.”
Grindr’s new policy came after a European Grindr user figured out how to find the exact location of any Grindr user, anywhere in the world. He then posted evidence of what he found online, in order to convince Grindr to fix the problem.
Grindr is a smartphone/tablet application that gay men use to find dates, hook-ups, or even friends (yes, I actually met one of my best French friends platonically on Grindr).
And while the app did not show a user’s location, it would show how far one user was away from another in feet, meters, miles or kilometers (see example below). But since it did not show the user’s direction, the information did not generally put the privacy of individual users at much risk.
The European Grindr user was able to spoof his location to Grindr’s servers, and by doing so three times in three different virtual locations, he was able to triangulate the near-exact location of every Grindr customer who was online at that moment.
In response to the disclosure of the location of 600,000 users, Grindr has turned off its “distance” function. Grindr initially released a statement claiming that the security breach was not a glitch, but rather a feature that Grindr stood behind: “We do not view this as a security flaw.”
But as the exact location of more gay men were exposed, including one at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, a second at the British House of Commons, and a third inside the Russian Kremlin, Grindr finally relented.
Among the scenarios in which knowing a Grindr user’s exact location could prove dangerous:
1. A closeted teen who is not out to his parents.
2. A gay man in a country that puts gays to death (Iran, Brunei).
3. Gays living in countries that routinely violate their human rights (Russia and a host of African countries come to mind).
4. A gay man living in any town in America, or anywhere in the world, where it might not go over terribly well that he’s gay.
I have a request for comment into the European Grindr user who uncovered the glitch, and who has been dogging this story, and Grindr, for two weeks now. I will update my story with his response.