Gay smartphone app Grindr permanently disables “distance” option

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.

All told, the anonymous privacy advocate was able to discern the location of over 600,000 Grindr users, including those in such dangerous countries are RussiaBruneiIran and North Korea.

The exact location of gay men currently on Grindr in Tehran, Iran, a country in which gay men are put to death.

The exact location of gay men currently on Grindr in Tehran, Iran, a country in which gay men are put to death.

grindr-users-identified

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.

grindr

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.

A lone gay inside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC.

A lone gay inside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC.

A gay Grindr user, late at night, inside the British House of Commons.

A gay Grindr user, late at night, inside the British House of Commons.

Two gay Grindr users inside the Russian Duma, and one inside the Kremlin.

Two gay Grindr users inside the Russian Duma, and one inside the Kremlin.

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.


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

  • Capt Sirl

    Thinking like that is why I moved away from the USA.

  • Ste Ríkharðsson

    The thing I MOST don’t understand is WHY THE HELL did America Blog publish the screenshots of the exact positions of those gay people in Washington DC, London and Moscow? Especially Moscow.

    We have NO IDEA what effect the publishing of these photos has had. Maybe there is now a witchhunt for who exactly these people are. Irresponsible reporting.

  • Ste Ríkharðsson

    I thought they am ALWAYS had the option to turn distance off if you so desire. I’ve always seen the “show distance” switch on the app. The only difference I can discern is that before it was on by default, but now it’s off by default and users can opt in.

    I understand that religiously extremist countries like Iran, the DPRK and Saudi Arabia use the app to find and murder gay people, but surely they could have just turned off the distance feature… Am I missing something here?

  • Capt Sirl

    Thank God they turned it back on.
    Please turn your off

  • Capt Sirl

    Bingo

  • Capt Sirl

    It does
    And your not forced to use it

  • Capt Sirl

    I did not realize that they wede forced to use it. But its cool as of this a.m. we got it back

  • James5stars

    https://grindr.gay.cat/

    GRINDR has failed….they said they deactivated the distance feature, but apparently it is active again as of today.

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

    Perhaps you haven’t been following this story, but the big problem is Grindr’s location function works in countries where a person can be imprisoned or sentenced to death for being gay. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brunei, Egypt, UAE, African nations — everywhere.

  • Jay

    This feature is most useful. Perhaps when a user is less than 1000 feet, they could change it to say, within 1000 feet. That would prevent anyone from pinpointing anyone’s exact location. Unless they live out in a remote location.

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

    I understand just fine. I’m talking about normal non-hacker users.

    You’re not talking to a technological Luddite here.

  • Jay

    You don’t understand. There are apps that will fake your gps location. If a user is showing there distance, it is possible to keep changing your location until you are at their exact locat. Virtually of course unless you then drive to them. You can pinpoint someone’s location within a foot. Can even determine which area of the house they are located.

  • Indigo

    I did not know that. I’m only familiar with the three-tries and you’re out method.

  • http://bible.gideonse.com Gideonse

    Why couldn’t Grindr just allow users the option of turning off GPS? Even better, make it opt-in so that users consciously have to make the decision. I don’t understand why they’ve decided to destroy completely the point of their app.

  • JV

    Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the app though?? Everyone should read this article on how to safely use dating apps, such as Grindr.

    http://www.wksexcrimes.com/5-tips-safely-legally-use-online-dating-apps/

  • Capt Sirl

    I just don’t understand. We use the app to pinpoint our position.
    Now someone say they found a different way to pinpoint our position and that is
    bad. The app is just that to see who is around you potentially. Makes for great
    BBQs at the sand bar. It’s not like we don’t know that. It’s not like we are
    not warned when we use the app. Same day this happened I found Scruff a new app
    to me but it shows my location. For my protection I DON’T USE FACE BOOK or
    Linkedin or any other social media used for tracking people nowadays. Give us a
    break and put the distance back on the app. It’s no fun without it.

    STOP TRYING TO PROTECT ME NEXT YOU WILL WANT TO REMOVE MAY
    GAY FLAG FROM MY CAR and HOME

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

    Well, it was at least partly Apple’s fault because their ‘Find My Phone’ feature did not have a maximum number of wrong password guesses. (At least this was the route in as reported by several media outlets early on.) The flaw made brute-force dictionary guessing attacks possible, which these days not only will include actual dictionary words, but also previously cracked passwords — which themselves have often been collected from other compromised or cracked sites.

  • Andy Harris

    Its really a good news.

  • caphillprof

    This is a great victory for the nanny state.

  • Indigo

    Witness the iCloud fiasco where users couldn’t be bothered to secure their accounts. Much as I disapprove of the spawn of Steve Jobs, it wasn’t Apple’s fault the nudititas were exposed.

  • HeartlandLiberal

    Wait. What? There are Internet users in North Korea? Hard to believe after watching this documentary on North Korea. Much less gay Internet users?

    Disguised as a medical coordinator, National Geographic correspondent
    Lisa Ling gains access into North Korea and gives viewers a powerful
    glimpse inside one of the most restrictive countries in the world.
    Through personal accounts and exclusive footage, Ling exposes the
    difficulties North Koreans face while living in such an oppressive
    regime, coping with poverty, hunger and the lack of civil liberties.

    http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/National-Geographic-Inside-North-Korea/70061970?trkid=222336

    If you want to get a feel for the stunning, Orwellian reality of life inside North Korea, the sheer disconnect from what we could consider reality, then watch this documentary.

    Towards the end, there is a whole segment that demonstrates the slavish, religious like worship of the Dear Leader, whoever he is at the moment, the citizens are expected to display. It is like visiting a fundamentalist revival where the people are all speaking in tongues and wailing their gratitude to their savior, only in this case, it is to the Dear Leader, who has done all for them.

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

    I found myself wondering: “Did they ACTUALLY turn it off? Or did they just SAY they turned it off, to get guys like John to stop pestering them?”

  • MichaelS

    PS – Grindr is still showing distance on my iPhone…

  • MichaelS

    …But, doesn’t that rather kill the whole point of Grindr, since it’s predominantly a hook-up app? Will a user from Vermont now be chatting with someone from Texas, thinking erroneously that fellow is likely in his same home town?

  • Drew2u

    Yeah, and no gay clubs or meetings either, because it could just invite secret inspectors to take notice or for newspersons to post pictures of the attendees. All gays in repressive countries should just stay to themselves and never socialize.
    (That’s what your post just sounded like)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Well, and Grindr didn’t help its cause by responding to this just like any other straight company, issuing a statement claiming this wasn’t a problem, then going all radio-silence. I’d have hoped a company with near 40 million subscribers (according to the gay European, he was able to find the info easily via Grindr itself), would have an interest in being overly cautious about protecting the security of its users.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Most people naively assume that the companies they are handing their information over to, be it location tracking via an app, or their credit card number from making a purchase, or even more details in the form of some kind of a discount savings card, are using that information in a responsible way and keeping it safe and secure from anyone wishing to use it maliciously. Simple fact is, most of them are not. Think about the number of data security breaches we’ve read about over the last few years, several with major companies that should know better, and have the money to be more careful. Just the other day we learned that Home Depot is neck deep in their own carelessness. There are so many companies soaking up so much information, and not caring at all what happens to much of that data as long as the profit keeps flowing. They only do something about it when it begins to impact their bottom line.

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

    Yeah, well that’s why Grindr shouldn’t work at all if a user’s IP or GPS location puts them inside one of those countries…

  • nicho

    But will the Grindr app tell if you if the person you’re going to hook up with is a cop or a member of the religious police or a member of the ministry of killing gays? If you live in a repressive, anti-gay dictatorship, stay off of Grindr and any of the other instant sex sites. Grindr is the cyber equivalent of hanging around in a public restroom looking for a blow job. It has risks.

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

    Glad to see Grindr is finally doing the right thing.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I would agree that closeted republicans probably shouldn’t be using it at the HQ :) But the point of Grindr is not to expose your exact location, ever. And no one who uses Grindr assumes, or even considered, that their exact location was available to anyone, including anyone with an Internet connection who didn’t even subscribe to Grindr.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That too.

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

    The average person is average stupid. And particularly when it comes to technology, most people can’t or won’t think through the consequences of what they’re doing, or the potential risks.

  • AJ2

    I thought the whole point of GrindR was to show you people based on their distance from you. If you’re a closeted Republican in their HQ, you should be smart enough not to be using a smartphone app for gay hookups. I downloaded once and all the closeted gays in my apt cabe up

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