Grindr’s Chinese owners agree to sell app by June 2020 after privacy fears

Photo: Grindr

The Chinese owners of Grindr have agreed to sell the gay app by next June after demands from the US government over security and privacy concerns.

Grindr calls itself “the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people” and claims more than 3 million daily users worldwide.

The company is based in California but since January last year has been wholly owned by Beijing Kunlun Tech Co.

In March, it emerged that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a US government body examining national security implications of foreign investment, had deemed Kunlun’s ownership a “national security risk” and demanded Grindr be sold.

In a regulatory filing on Monday, the company said it had reached an agreement with CFIUS prohibiting them from accessing Grindr’s personal data and selling the app by June 30, 2020, Reuters reported.

Kunlun said it would shut down operations in China and would be prohibited from transmitting any sensitive information to any China-based entities.

The company’s ownership of Grindr has led to fears among national security experts and privacy advocates that China could use potentially embarrassing or sensitive private data from the app for espionage purposes.

The app collects personal information submitted by users including location, messages, photos, and HIV status, according to its privacy policy.

‘This information can be misused’

Two US Democratic senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Grindr last year demanding the company explain how user privacy would be protected under its Chinese ownership.

“We’ve previously raised concerns about Grindr’s privacy practices because this application serves uniquely vulnerable groups and collects highly sensitive information, including HIV status and sexual orientation,” the two senators told NBC News last month.

“In the wrong hands, this information can be misused in ways that threaten the safety and well-being of LGBTQ users around the world.

“These concerns are heightened when there is a risk of adversarial foreign actors being privy to the data in question.”

A spokesperson for Grindr told NBC the company “never disclosed any user data (regardless of citizenship) to the Chinese government nor do we intend to.”

UK-based rights group Privacy International said last month that government officials — including US military and intelligence services officers — may be Grindr users.

“The US government is right to be concerned about the possibility of a foreign government gaining access to the most intimate aspects of their lives,” the group said.

“However, it is equally concerning that Grindr users from any country and background are at the mercy of a government, be it the Chinese or the US government.”

Grindr has had to respond to claims of user data privacy issues over the last 18 months, including an alleged encryption flaw that exposed users’ location data even if they’d opted out of sharing it.

Last year, Grindr pledged to stop sharing users’ HIV and location data that it had allegedly not deidentified with two external companies it had contracted, after a backlash.

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