(Blogmensgo, gay blog of April 6, 2019) The US Foreign Investment Commission (CFIUS) requires the Chinese owner of Grindr to sell the gay dating app because Beijing could start blackmailing Grindr users. Another reason is that Grindr's security may be inadequate, especially when used by U.S. government personnel.
Washington's provisional injunction
Washington claims that Chinese Grindr users are at the mercy of the Beijing government, which could instruct the app operator to disclose personal, confidential or even intimate information about them: User ID, sexual orientation and preference, HIV status, compromising photos, etc. All this could be used by the Chinese central government to blackmail users into revealing their homosexuality.
The second reason put forward by the US is that Grindr, particularly through its geolocalization system, could be used to identify or locate government personnel. In other words, Grindr poses a risk to American national security.
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Why does the US government force a Chinese company to sell its dating app? Because Grindr was not always owned by China: The app was founded in California in 2009 and only acquired by the Chinese online gaming specialist Beijing Kunlun Tech in 2018, after they had previously acquired 60% of the shares. The Chinese investor has probably paid almost 250 million dollars for the gay dating app, which has been a huge success worldwide – except in China itself.
In fact, most users are located in the USA, although their exact number is not known. Therefore, the American government is less concerned about the protection of Chinese but rather American gays, of course – in particular about the confidentiality of information on Americans employed by government agencies.
Kunlun is probably currently looking for a buyer for Grindr to avoid American sanctions, because these are synonymous with high depreciation. The IPO planned in recent months no longer appears to be relevant, at least for the time being.
Fear of data leakage
This is not the first time that Grindr has been criticized for allegedly poor protection of its members’ data. According to Wikipedia, in April 2018 Grindr had given third parties access to personal information that could include HIV status.
Are the personal data collected on Grindr still insufficiently protected today? In its privacy notice, Grindr gives a funny answer:
While the Grindr App permits you to make certain items (e.g., Profile Information, preferences, opinions of other users, or other information) non-public, sophisticated users who use the Grindr App in an unauthorized manner may nevertheless be able to obtain this information and may be able to determine your identity.
In other words: Your personal data is safe here – theoretically.
Such a mishap recently occurred with another China-funded LGBT dating app. From June 2018 to 2019, Rela, an app for lesbians and queer women, stored the personal data and profiles of 5.3 million female users in a non-password-protected server. Anyone could access the server and then view each member’s nickname, date of birth, measurements, sexual preferences, interests and status updates.
Although homosexuality has been legal in China since 1997, gays and lesbians are still stigmatized in China because there is no LGBT anti-discrimination law.
The United States does not make any demands for similar apps like Rela or Blued, because unlike Grindr, they are almost exclusively used in China.
Frank-S / MensGo