Story at a glance

  • A new study found that dating apps like Grindr and OkCupid were sharing personal details with other companies, including information about users’ sexuality.
  • A coalition of U.S. consumer groups is urging an investigation into whether these practices violate federal and state laws.
  • For LGBTQ+ people, being outed to other companies can pose risks to their employment with uncertain legal protection.

Popular dating apps like Grindr and OkCupid are sharing personal information about their users with other companies, including their sexuality, according to a new report. And those companies are sending them elsewhere — making it difficult to know who has this information about you.  

Ten apps were identified as sending data about users to third parties for advertising or behavioral profiling, which in turn sent the data to additional third parties. This data included IP address, GPS location, gender, age and user activities. In the case of OkCupid, the company shared highly personal data about sexuality, drug use, political views and more. 

“What’s scary about this is the idea that people may be outed to their employers without them having any idea that it’s happening, until all of a sudden there are consequences for them at work,” said James Esseks, director of the LGBT and HIV project of the ACLU. 

Grindr, which came under attack in 2018 for sharing users' HIV status with other companies, now says it does not share that or other information about users' sexuality. However, as the world’s most popular gay dating app, it does share the name of the app with its users’ other information — allowing people to connect the two and assume information about a users’ sexuality.  

Nine consumer groups have signed a petition asking the Federal Trade Commission, Congressional lawmakers and the state attorneys general of California, Texas and Oregon to investigate these apps and whether they are violating privacy laws in the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union of California has also attached their name to the petition. 

This privacy issue highlights the importance of having protections for workers, Esseks said, pointing to three cases currently sitting in front of the Supreme Court that will decide whether the federal law prohibiting discrimination against employees based on sex extends to cover their sexuality. As of now, 21 states and Washington, D.C., have laws making discrimination on the basis of sexuality illegal, but the remaining states and federal government do not. 

“It’s no secret that there are people all across the country that are not comfortable with transgender people and with lesbian, gay and bisexual people. So if your boss finds out, for example, that you’re transgender and your boss didn’t know that, all of a sudden you may be fired,” Esseks said. “If you don’t know that they know that you’re trans because they don’t tell you that, all of a sudden you don’t even have the ability to say that’s discrimination.”

In this way, information about a person’s sexuality shared with companies could be used against them in the workplace, housing and other realms. In places outside the U.S., where same-sex sexual acts are illegal, such information poses a greater risk

“We don’t know where the information is going to get to,” Esseks said. 

Published on Jan 14, 2020