Grindr App Sale To Chinese Tech Company Raises Questions About Data Privacy

The China-based Kunlun Group now owns 100 percent of the dating app Grindr, which describes itself as world's largest gay social network. About two years ago, the Chinese tech and gaming firm bought 60 percent of Grindr and has now completed the purchase of the remaining 40 percent. The total price of the acquisition of the West Hollywood, California, company is said to be about $245 million.

In a previous blog post, Grindr explained to its three million-plus users that user privacy is and always has been a paramount issue and that the Chinese government will have no access to user accounts. Nor does the government have an ownership stake in Kunlun.

It also claimed that founder Joel Simkhai (shown above) would remain as CEO of Grindr, which he launched in 2009. L.A. Biz reported last week, however, that Simkhai left the company and that the Kunlun board chairman has taken over as interim CEO.

According to an Op-Ed by columnist Josh Rogin in the Washington Post, there are privacy concerns attendant to the announcement of the full Grindr buyout.

"That announcement set off alarms among officials and experts that track Chinese intelligence and foreign influence operations in the United States. The Chinese government is sweeping up massive amounts of data on not only its own citizens, but also Americans and others, as part of a unique and well-planned effort to build files on foreigners for intelligence purposes."
A Grindr executive told the Post that Grindr employs sophisticated technology to safeguard personal information and that privacy/security is at the top of its priority list. The exec added that Grinder, which will continue to be U.S. based and subject to U.S. law, has never released data about any of its users across nearly 200 countries to the Chinese government and has no intention to do so.

Grindr dating app sold to Chinese tech firm

The Post essay asserted that China's rulers, however, have broad powers under the country's so-called public security law to demand that Chinese companies turn over sensitive information to the Beijing government in certain circumstances,

"Grindr's assurances notwithstanding, due to the opaque nature of the relationship between the Chinese government and its large overseas firms, and what we know about the Chinese strategy to collect data on foreigners, the risk to Grindr users that the Chinese government will know their secrets has just increased."
Perhaps more ominously about Chinese data mining generally, the Daily Mail claimed that "China's spymasters are believed to be building massive databases of personal, financial and health information on Americans, to have handy in the event of future contact and potentially as leverage in blackmail scenarios."

Separately and unrelated to the above, a survey of 200,000 Apple iPhone users by Time Well Spent supposedly indicated that 77 percent of users experienced feelings of regret after using the Grindr app for at least an hour each day, the U.K. website Attitude reported.

China is believed to have previously hacked into the massive employee database of the U.S. government's Office of Personnel Management.