Grindr sold users’ location data for years, may have outed Catholic priest: report

Grindr, the popular gay dating app, sold data that tracked the precise movements of millions of its users beginning in 2017, which may have led to the outing of a senior Catholic priest, according to a report.

The company told The Wall Street Journal that it ceased sharing data with advertisers beginning two years ago by cutting off the flow of any location information.

The data, which was purchased by clients of a mobile advertising company, allowed unknown third parties to know sensitive information about users, including whom they were dating, where they lived and worked, and where they spent their free time.

The Journal reported that the data did not include details such as names or phone numbers.

“Since early 2020, Grindr has shared less information with ad partners than any of the big tech platforms and most of our competitors, restricting the information we share to IP address, advertising ID, and the basic information necessary to support ad delivery,” a Grindr spokesperson said.

The dating app which numbers millions of users said it stopped the practice two years ago.
LightRocket via Getty Images

“Grindr does not share users’ precise location, we do not share user profile information, and we do not share even industry standard data like age or gender.”

Last year, a senior Catholic priest resigned after he was outed as a user of Grindr thanks to information which was circulated in ad networks.

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, who was the top administrator for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, quit after a Catholic news site published a story detailing how he used Grindr and frequented gay bars.

“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities,” the Pillar reported. “Data app signals suggest he was at the same time engaged in serial and illicit sexual activity.” 

The Wisconsin-based priest’s alleged “activity” included attending a “gay bathhouse” in Las Vegas. 

Last year, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a Catholic priest, resigned after he was outed as a Grindr user by a Catholic news site.
Last year, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a Catholic priest, resigned after he was outed as a Grindr user by a Catholic news site.
Bob Roller/CNS

Before 2020, Grindr shared location-based data with ad networks who would tailor targeted ads that promoted “hyperlocal” businesses like restaurants, bars, or hotels. Grindr executives at the time did not believe that the data-sharing would pose any risk to user privacy, according to the Journal.

App users often allow their locations to be detected in order to better match with potential dates who live nearby. That data is then shared with an ad network where several advertisers bid to post an ad to users’ phones once they open the app.

There could be hundreds or even thousands of advertisers in the ad network that gain access to real-time information about a user’s precise whereabouts. UM, a mobile-advertising company formerly known as UberMedia, purchased data that included the precise movements of Grindr users.

It bought the data from MoPub, an advertising network that was owned by Twitter before it was sold last year.

“UberMedia was a MoPub partner,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Journal.

“Like all partners they were subject to MoPub’s marketplace agreement and data use restrictions.”

In Jan. 2020, Twitter suspended Grindr from its ad network following a report that it shared intimate personal information about its users with third-party marketers.

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