Saudi Arabia jails gay man for 1 year, $26k fine, for cruising gay social networks on cell phone

Saudi Arabia has just sent a gay man to jail for one year, and included a $26,000 fine, for the “crime” of cruising for sex on gay social networks on his mobile phone.

I’d reported previously on the problem a number of gay phone apps, most notably Grindr and Jack’d, posed for gay men in less-than-friendly locales, but also in the US and western Europe as well. In fact, AMERICAblog, with the help of an anonymous gay European social networking user, broke these stories.

The story from Gulf News, translated from Sabq Online Newspaper,  does not indicate which social networking app the man was using.

The problem many of these gay meet-up apps pose is that they disclose the near-exact location of gay men in those regions to anyone, including their local anti-gay governments. And while many less-informed gay men think that this is what the apps are supposed to do, that is not the case. The apps are supposed to broadcast your relative distance from another user — for example, indicating that you are 2 miles away from, or 1,000 feet. The app is not supposed to show other users, or government officials, exactly what block you live on and where.

As a result of our reporting, Grindr, which initially refused to acknowledge the problem, eventually turned off the location feature in countries in which is it particularly dangerous to be gay. The feature still works, and still can divulge your exact location, in other countries.

Here’s an example of what the apps are supposed to do — not the distance in the upper right hand corner:

grindr

And here is what the apps actually reveal to someone smart enough to figure it out:

Grindr users in Chicago.

The exact locations of Grindr users in Chicago.

But the problem goes far beyond Chicago. Gay men in the Middle East and Africa, Russia and Brunei, also use these apps.

Here are some examples from Iran:

Jack’d

Every Jack'd user online in Iran.

Every Jack’d user online in Iran.

Grindr

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.

If you were to click on the dots above, you’d see the user’s profile and photo (that’s been disabled here).

And here’s a look at every gay man using Jack’d in Europe, Asia and Africa — were you to zoom in on the original,  you’d find exactly where they live.

Every gay man online using the Jack'd app in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Every gay man online using the Jack’d app in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

These apps still pose a risk, IMHO, for gay men in anti-gay countries, but also for gay men in the West. Iran is not the only country in which you can lose your job for being gay.


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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