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Staying safe on Grindr: How to protect your privacy

Last edited: July 31, 2019
Reading time: 16 minutes, 42 seconds

Grindr LogoWith millions of users worldwide, Grindr is one of the most popular dating apps for gay and bisexual men. The app was launched in 2009, making it older than Tinder. Since then, Grindr has changed the gay scene completely. Grindr’s goal is to provide men from the LGBT community with a safe (dating) platform. With the app users can check out profiles of people in their neighborhood, exchange messages, and look for a date.

Online dating is mostly a lot of fun. Even so, it’s always good to be aware of the potential privacy risks that come with dating apps such as Grindr. We don’t mean to cause a panic or to stop people from using dating apps. We do, however, want to ensure that you, and other users, have the chance to protect yourself and your privacy. Especially in some countries, where local laws aren’t as accepting of the LGBT community, caution is extremely important. Sadly, many still discriminate others based on their sexuality, which makes safety measures necessary.

VPNOverview spoke with expert Philip Tijsma, who’s part of the COC, an official LGBT association in the Netherlands, as well as Azza Sultan, associate director of Grinder for Equality. Subsequently, we set up a list of tips for those who take their Grindr privacy seriously: don’t share any unnecessary personal information, turn off your location, and use a fake location app if needed.

What privacy risks does Grindr have?

For many users, Grindr is a platform on which they can be themselves without shame. Being gay is a given. That’s often a huge relief in a world where many still judge two men holding hands. Sadly, a small group of people with bad intentions use Grindr for their own purposes. This creates potential dangers for your privacy and wellbeing.

Other users can uncover your location

Smartphone Location MarkerIf you want to get the most out of Grindr, the app constantly needs to know where you are. The program uses GPS and Wi-Fi to match you to other Grindr users in your geographic area. However, Grindr, like other popular dating apps, has several vulnerabilities that allow strangers to find out your location. For example, the app shows how far away your ‘matches’ are in great detail. In 2014, Synack cybersecurity researchers discovered that Grindr users could easily exploit this information to uncover the locations of other users. Grindr addressed this issue by allowing users to disable location sharing.

However, a follow-up study conducted by Trever Faden demonstrated that the cybersecurity researchers could still find Grindr users’ locations, along with other personal data. This was possible even when users had disabled location sharing, because the user’s location data is still sent to Grindr’s server, where it can be uncovered. Faden created a website where users could identify who blocked them on Grindr. To uncover this information, the users only needed to enter their Grindr username and password.

Following Faden’s study, Grindr restricted access to data of users who had blocked other users. In addition, Grindr told users not to use their Grindr logins for other websites.

Grindr users in countries with anti-gay regulations could be in danger

With Grindr allowing people to determine users’ exact locations, privacy risks are aplenty, especially in places where being gay is considered a criminal offence. Homosexuality is still considered illegal in 69 countries, and some of those countries even use the death penalty. Being a Grindr user in one of those places can have extreme consequences. The government of Egypt, for example, used the Grindr app and its failings to track and even arrest gay citizens, even though homosexuality technically isn’t illegal there. Iran, too, used the lack of safety on Grindr to identify users of the app. Eventually, 200 Grindr users were taken into custody. Grindr has attempted to fight this danger by hiding the distance flag that’s used in the app, but these changes were easily circumvented.

Grindr aims to connect people living in the same area. Therefore, completely deleting every user’s location would make the app pointless. Without this information, people who are hundreds or thousands of miles apart could be matched with one another, without having any possibility to meet up in real life. It’s likely that these practical issues play a big part in Grindr’s decisions to fight any misuse of their app.

Your health information may be revealed

Smartphone Healthcare IconAnother privacy risk that comes with Grindr has to do with your personal data. The company has been known to share confidential data, including sensitive health information, of its users. In April 2018, Grindr was placed in a bad light when it was revealed that the company was sharing users’ HIV status with other companies, along with location data and email addresses.

Grindr representatives initially defended the practice. They claimed that data-sharing was widespread and that users consent to data-sharing when they sign up for the app. However, in practice, many Grindr users were unaware that their health information was being shared. If Grindr users choose to reveal their HIV status, this information is visible to any Grindr user who views their profile. Still, many users did not expect the app to share their sensitive health information outside of Grindr.

This severe breach of privacy caused a public outcry, and Grindr eventually issued a statement that user data would never be sold to third parties. Still, Grindr users should give serious thought to whether they want to include their health information on their profile.

Grindr helps users by offering tips and guides

Evidently, Grindr is constantly working on changing its services. The company tries to be transparent by informing its customers as well as they can. Moreover, they’re developing new options and fixes when people ask for them. We asked Grindr about recent developments surrounding the safety and privacy of their users and received the following response from Azza Sultan, associate director of Grindr for equality:

“We in Grindr understand that safety is not merely the responsibility of dating app users. Therefore Grindr is continuously seeking to develop and improve its security features to not only protect its users, but also to provide them with the critical safety information needed to ensure a safe dating experience. Apart from the security guidelines we provide for our users, we are currently developing a holistic security guide that will be available soon in different languages.”

This guide is now live on the Grindr website and can be found by clicking the following link: grindr.com/safety.

Dangers in daily life

Dating apps such as Tinder, Happn and Grindr carry sensitive information about their users. If that data falls into the wrong hands, it could have serious consequences. This is especially the case in countries where the existence of LGBTs is threatened by local laws. That might not seem so relevant if you live in a country where homosexuality is completely legal, but sadly that isn’t always true. Prejudice and a lack of social acceptance create big risks for all Grindr users.

Taking Grindr abroad

Airplane above planet EarthDating on your holiday destination can be a nice way to meet new people. This is all good fun, but you do have to be wary. If your home country is completely accepting of the LGBT community, you might expect any other country to be so as well. This isn’t always the case. Grindr automatically adjusts your location every time you activate the app. Like mentioned before, that can be dangerous in a lot of places, such as Algeria, Nigeria, Barbados, India and Pakistan. All of these countries have policies that make same sex acts illegal.

Similarly, there are countries where homosexuality is legal by law, but still punished. Examples are Russia and Egypt. In Egypt, which remains quite a popular holiday destination for many, the government has ordered the beating and locking up of multiple individuals after they’d arranged a date via Grindr. The young Firas was one of the victims: he’d planned a date with a boy he’d met on the app, but was set up, detained, and sentenced for ‘debauchery’, which is illegal according to Egyptian law.

Do you use Grindr, or a similar dating app, and are you about to travel? Then always make sure to check your destination’s local laws and general attitude towards homosexuality. The yearly research reports on state-sponsored homophobia by ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) might be a good place to start. At the bottom of this article, we’ve summed up the countries where same sex acts are seen as illegal. Our advice is to carefully consider this list, but also do some further research, so you don’t accidentally end up in a place like Egypt with your activated Grindr app.

Moreover, even countries that fully accept homosexuality by law and in practice, aren’t always a good place to be. Judgmental individuals may try to use Grindr in ways that is harmful to members of the LGBT community. That’s why it’s always important to protect yourself and your privacy as well as you can – also while dating.

Anonymous dating on Grindr?

Anonymity SmartphoneKeeping your privacy intact while dating does come with a certain dilemma. If every Grindr user put his privacy first, dating would become a lot more difficult – if not impossible. How will you know for sure that your match is who he says he is? When is it safe to meet up with someone? And how can you let the other know that you don’t mean them any harm and are just looking for a date?

Despite the negative attention Grindr has been getting recently, it remains a positive space. 99% of all dates, conversations, and meetups go well and without any trouble. In order to ensure this is the case for you as well, there are several precautions you can take. Grindr made a list with safety measures that all its users can and should use. Examples are: always notify a friend or family member about your location when you’re meeting someone from Grindr, and trust your instinct. If something feels off, it probably is.

How to protect your privacy on Grindr?

Aside from following the general safety guidelines that Grindr provides, you can always use several other safety measures in order to protect yourself as well as possible. Here are three good tips to help you with that:

Don’t share too much

As with other dating apps, it’s always wise to limit the amount of personal information you include on your profile. Avoid using your full name, phone number, email address, HIV status, and other sensitive information. Moreover, it’s wise to upload a profile photo that doesn’t appear anywhere else online. Otherwise users could try to do a reverse image search of your photo and find your other social media. If you use the same photo on Facebook or Twitter, they’ll have found your accounts in an instant and can use the information on there to further uncover your identity.

In addition, if you decide to take the conversation off the app, it’s safer to use Google Voice or a similar service. Such apps allow you to keep your own phone number private and work with a secondary number instead.

Disable the distance function

Grindr and other dating apps use your phone’s GPS location to match you up with people in your area. You’ll be able to see exactly how far you and that person are apart in real time. Convenient if you instantly want to meet up: the bar around the corner is easily reachable for both of you! Unfortunately, this also means that other users are able to uncover your exact location. If another Grindr user knows the distance between the two of you, they can calculate were you are using a process called trilateration. For this reason, it’s important to hide your distance information.

You can hide your distance on Grindr by taking the following actions:

  1. Open the Grindr app on your device
  2. Go to your profile
  3. Tap on “Settings” in the upper right corner
  4. Go to “Display Preferences
  5. Turn off “Show My Distance

Be aware, however, that turning off this function will only keep other users from seeing exactly how far away you are. Your profile will still be categorized with and shown to other Grindr users in your area. This means your location will still be vulnerable if other local Grindr users disclose their distance information.

Use a fake location app

Map with locationHiding your distance on Grindr might already ease your mind. Since you’re still being matched with people in your direct surroundings, however, it doesn’t provide full privacy. Perhaps you don’t think you’ll need this: Grindr is all about meeting people, after all.

If you want to take things a step further, your best option is to install a fake-location app and spoof your location. These apps can fool other apps into thinking you’re somewhere else. In almost all cases, this also works on dating apps. Popular options include Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer for Android and iTools for iOS devices. We’ve tested the Fake GPS Go Location Spoofer for you and can tell you that it works for both Grindr and Happn.

Fake GPS Go Location Spoofer

Fake GPS GO is quite easy to install and available for Android 6.0 and higher. To use it, follow the following steps:

  1. Download the app
  2. Open the app and tap “Enable Mock Locations” on the first screen
  3. Go to your settings, then choose the “Developer Options” screen, tap “Mock Location App“, and select “FakeGPS Free
  4. Go back to the app and choose the location you want to spoof
  5. Use the play button in the bottom right corner of your screen to enable the fake GPS setting
  6. Watch for a message reading “Fake Location Engaged” so you know the setting has been enabled for sure

iTools’ Fake GPS Location

Follow these steps to spoof your location on iOS with iTools:

  1. Install iTools on your computer
  2. Open the program and select “Free Trial
  3. Go to the “Toolbox” tab
  4. Go to “Device Toolkits” and select “Virtual Location
  5. Enter the fake location in the text box on the map and press enter
  6. When a marker for the fake location appears on the map, click “Move Here” to set your iPhone to that location

Setting your phone’s GPS to a fake location is currently the most effective way to protect your location on Grindr and other dating apps. Do remember, however, that you’ll be matched with profiles that are nearby the spoofed location, and not your actual location. Even so, spoofing can be very useful: you can always pick a location that’s only a few miles from where you are. This way, you’ll match with people in your neighbourhood, but you won’t give away your actual location.

Perhaps it might not feel fair to your date when you use a fake location. If so, it’s totally fine to bring up the topic during a first or second date, so you won’t be seen as a catfish. Talk about the possibilities to adjust your Grindr location and talk about the advantages. There’s always a chance that the person sitting across from you has the same worries about privacy and safety as you do. Maybe he’d even like to know more about it.

SCRUFF

Grindr is constantly chasing solutions for problems that users have encountered. Safety plays a huge role in this. However, Grindr isn’t the only app working on this. Another dating platform for gay and bisexual men is SCRUFF. Their aim is to create a network of (gay) people who can exchange information to keep each other safe. The app has the option to contact local ambassadors: special members of the app whom you can ask for tips when you’re traveling to their country or city.

We decided to test the app out for ourselves and contacted SCRUFF ambassadors in different countries. Our questions were answered quickly and thoroughly, and we even received a handful of useful travel tips. Clearly a successful system. Aside from these ambassadors, SCRUFF uses ILGA data to warn its users of the local situation in over 80 countries, something Tinder has recently started doing as well. This is especially useful if you’re not completely up to date on the situation of your destination when you’re already on your way.

Final thoughts

Dating, whether in real life or online, should be safe for everyone. Dating apps by themselves aren’t dangerous; they’re simply instruments that make it easier for people to meet each other. This is mostly just a lot of fun. Sadly there are still plenty of people with bad intentions around who hate apps like Grindr because they’re aimed at gay and bisexual men. Those people can cause a lot of problems, especially in countries where homosexuality is still seen as illegal.

Grindr has the same security vulnerabilities as other dating apps, especially when it comes to keeping users’ locations private. Despite Grindr’s attempts to fix this vulnerability, it’s possible for Grindr users and sometimes even governments to uncover users’ identities. Currently, limiting the information you share on your profile and using a fake-location app on your device are some of the best precautions you can take when using Grindr.

When it comes to Grindr, it’s important to be aware of the possible risks you’re exposed to when using the dating service. However, don’t let this keep you from the app. As long as you treat your personal information wisely and think your actions through, the chances of anything bad happening are very small.

Where are same sex acts considered to be illegal?

The interactive world map shown below gives an overview of the legality of homosexuality in countries all over the world. Pay attention to the fact that some countries and areas where homosexuality is considered legal by law still don’t always support LGBT rights. One might face discrimination, violence and stigmatization in those places, for example in Russia.

Interactive world map of LGBT rights (indicating the illegality of homosexuality)

Several countries need some extra explanation, since the situation there isn’t as easily defined. You’ll find these countries and the necessary remarks in the table below.

Country Legality of homosexuality Notes
Egypt Officially legal, but one can still be prosecuted Theoretically speaking, homosexuality isn’t illegal, but in practice it’s often seen as a violation of ‘moral laws’. The rules for women remain unclear.
Indonesia Dependent upon location Being gay is legal in most of Indonesia, save for the following areas: Aceh, South Sumatra and the city Palembang.
Iraq Legal According to law, homosexuality is legal in Iraq, but expressing oneself as part of the LGBT community is extremely dangerous due to citizens who’ll take the law into their own hands.
Libanon Illegal for men and women Some judges have decided not to prosecute individuals, but this hasn’t yet been decided by law.
North Korea Legal There are no laws against homosexuality in North Korea. The country simply denies its existence alltogether.
Palestine Dependent upon location Being gay is illegal for men in Gaza. Homosexuality is officially legal in the rest of the country.
Russia Dependent upon location Illegal in Chechnya. It has been reported that gay people are being placed in concentration camps.
Singapore Illegal for men Legal for women. In the case of men, the law hasn’t been abided since 1996.
Sri Lanka Unclear Some sources report that homosexuality has been decriminalised.

One of the biggest international organizations concerning itself with LGBT rights is the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA for short. They have made an even more detailed world map with information regarding laws and legislation about sexual orientation.

Go to ILGA's world map of sexual orientation laws
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