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Popular Dating Apps Are The Latest To Be Hit With Privacy Concerns

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Tinder, the popular dating app that revolutionized online dating by allowing users to swipe left or right at potential matches, changed the dating scene forever when it was released in 2012. Tinder's popularity spawned countless copycat dating apps in the years that followed its release.

Of course, it's not news to anyone in 2020 that using mobile phone apps exposes your personal data to countless third parties. However, both United States national security officials and the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) are now warning about the dangers of some of the most popular dating apps.

The United States Department of Justice is concerned about one popular dating app in particular—Grindr. Grindr is described as the "largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people." Similar to TikTok, Grindr is owned by a Chinese company and is causing Justice Department officials to worry that the Chinese government could get its hands on the app's user data. Grindr's privacy policy even says it "cannot guarantee the security of your personal data."

"Chinese law requires a Chinese company to share any information that it has with the Chinese government if it's asked for that information for national security reasons," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice said. "The other thing we know is that China is a top-down authoritarian country. So law or no law, if your future livelihood as a business depends on the government's happiness with the way you behave, you're gonna turn over that information."

Last month, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all banned TikTok following a recommendation from the United States Department of Defense. Grindr hasn't been banned from these branches of the U.S. army; however, as TikTok illustrated, a precedent has certainly been set for using apps owned by Chinese companies.

Separately, a study by the NCC found dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr and OkCupid are sharing sensitive user data that may violate Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

The study by the NCC, conducted from June 2019 to November 2019, found user data from these apps moved around between more than one hundred third parties such as Facebook and Google, as well as numerous adtech companies.  

The study found Grindr was particularly lax with user data, with Twitter-owned MoPub facilitating much of the transfer of user data to third parties. Advertising partners of MoPub could then distribute the user data, without receiving consent from the users, to other companies. 

According to the study, MoPub claims it has received consent to process this personal data.  However, MoPub's partners do not necessarily respect this consent and may choose not to facilitate withdrawal requests by users. Not that anyone reads privacy policies, but Grindr tells users to read MoPub's privacy policy, which says to read the privacy policies of its 160 partners to understand how their personal data may be used.

The study points out that the language of adtech companies' privacy policies are often "incomprehensible" with "questionable legal basis." The GDPR requires users to receive clear and easily understandable information about what they are consenting to and must actively opt in. "In the cases described in this report, none of the apps or third parties appear to fulfill the legal conditions for collecting valid consent," the study said.

While releasing the study, the NCC also announced it is filing formal complaints against Grindr, MoPub, AT&T’s AppNexus, OpenX, AdColony and Smaato for breaches of the GDPR. Companies found to be in breach of the GDPR can face fines of up to 4% of their global revenue. 

We will conclude with the quote below from the NCC, which couldn't sum up the state of advertising any more accurately.

"It is time for a serious debate about whether the surveillance-driven advertising systems that have taken over the internet, and which are economic drivers of misinformation online, is a fair trade-off for the possibility of showing slightly more relevant ads."

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