- LGBTQ dating apps collect and store information on their users, like all apps. But they come with unique security risks because if it falls into the wrong hands, that data could be used to “out” people – or, in some countries, to prosecute them.
- A new study from cybersecurity firm Recorded Future takes stock of the threats facing LGBTQ people across the globe, compares how queer dating apps’ security stacks up, and provides advice for queer and trans people to digitally protect themselves from surveillance and entrapment.
- Governments across the globe that forbid homosexuality have surveilled apps like Grindr to prosecute people, according to the report. Scammers also use queer dating apps to gather information on people and blackmail them.
- One app, Scruff, received praise from security researchers for taking extra steps to protect user data.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In countries where homosexuality and gender nonconformity are illegal, police are increasingly using queer dating apps to surveil and entrap LGBTQ people, according to a new report.
Researchers from cybersecurity firm Recorded Future published a comprehensive report Tuesday that lays out the risks associated with queer dating apps and gives advice to LGTBQ people to digitally protect themselves against surveillance.
It’s one of the first and most comprehensive reports of its kind. The report was spearheaded by LGBTQ staff at Insikt, Recorded Future’s research arm.
“A lot of LGBTQ issues aren’t addressed in the threat intelligence space,” Insikt consultant Evan Akin told Business Insider. “In the past it just doesn’t get the attention I think it might deserve.”
The report provides a comprehensive list of instances of government surveillance and prosecution across the globe in recent years that relied on queer dating apps or forums. Police in Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, Ghana, and other countries have identified and lured LGBTQ people by posing as potential romantic interests on dating apps, according to intelligence aggregated in the report.
“We wanted to raise awareness and heighten everyone’s sensitivity as they travel to these different regions,” Insikt Group senior director Maggie McDaniel told Business Insider.
Researchers compared the data practices of Tinder, OKCupid, Grindr, Scruff, and HER. Of those, just one app – Scruff – garnered praise for taking extra steps to protect user data. Scruff anonymizes users’ location, making it harder to track, and sends alerts when users are travelling to countries with anti-LGBTQ laws. Scruff is also the only of the five apps that has cut ties with third-party data brokers in favour of an in-house ad and analytics business.
“By contrast, OKCupid, Grindr, and Tinder have been found to collect user data – including users’ exact location, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political beliefs, drug use, and more – and share that data with at least 135 different third-party entities,” the report says.
Some of those data-sharing practices first came to light earlier this year, when the Norwegian Consumer Council found that Grindr, OKCupid, and Tinder sent users’ identifying information to third-party advertisers. Before that, Grindr faced backlash for sharing users’ HIV status with third parties, but said it discontinued the practice in 2018.
Read the full findings from Recorded Future researchers here.
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