Queer Dating Apps Need to Protect Their Users Better

Norman Shamas is an activist and educator whose work focuses on human-centered information and digital security and privacy.

In 2014, at least three websites outed gay dating–app users in Jordan by posting their profile information, sometimes including their location. (The pages have since been taken down.) Last year, the South Korean army was suspected of using dating apps to out gay soldiers. Chechen authorities used gay dating apps as evidence for arrest during a terrifying homophobic purge in 2017. Egyptian authorities had a prior history of using queer platforms to target users, with reports of luring users to meet and arrest them and of targeting individuals on the street and searching their phones dating back as early as 2015. With the 2018 acquisition of Grindr by a Beijing-based tech firmsome are concerned that the Chinese government could use sensitive data from the app to similarly crack down on their local queer communities too. In all of these cases, just being identified as queer could be enough to put someone at risk.

Despite these dangers—and many other recent reminders of the violence LGBTQ individuals still face around the world, including a rise in the number of deadly attacks in the U.S.—many people continue to use queer platforms like Grindr and Hornet. These apps are more than just a place for dating. They act as a digital convening point for developing communities, exploring individual identities, and escaping heteronormative surroundings. The platforms can also afford a greater degree of anonymity for someone who wishes to remain in the closet in their public life.

Because of this, queer dating–app users face a hard choice: accept the risk or lose their important—and, in some instances, only—connection to their community. But the task of mitigating harm shouldn’t fall solely on these individuals. The app creators, too, bear responsibility for protecting their valuable users. Yet too often, intentionally or not, these developers design their platforms in ways that place the burden of digital safety and privacy on users. Thankfully, however, some of these companies may finally be recognizing a need to step up. Read more via Slate