When it comes to apps and privacy, it’s nearly always worse than you think.
That sad truth was once again confirmed today by a disturbing report from the non-profit Norwegian Consumer Council, which highlights in excruciating detail the extent to which the apps that mediate our most intimate of interactions can’t keep even the tiniest of secrets. According to researchers, Grindr and OkCupid are handing out scores of private user information to third-party companies that most people have never even heard of.
While mobile apps in general have a long history of aggressive data grabs, dating apps by their very nature are privy to the type of personal info most people wouldn’t even share with their family — let alone a host of random companies. And yet, researchers found, by using these apps that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Take, for example, OkCupid. The study authors note that, via Google Play alone, the app has over 10 million installs. In addition to asking users about their sexual preferences, history of drug use, and political views, the app requests permission to access location data and gathers a user’s unique advertiser ID.
The OkCupid app transmits information to numerous third-party companies, including Facebook. One such company, the maker of a customer engagement platform by the name of Braze, was sent users’ “personal questions and answers, as well as information about the user’s ethnicity.”
And those personal questions? Yeah, they include things like “Have you used psychedelic drugs?” and “Do you prefer hardcore or softcore when it comes to your porn?”
Oh, and for good measure, in some instances Braze was also sent users’ GPS data.
Notably, OkCupid is not alone in this described practice of oversharing. Grindr, which found itself in the news in April of 2018 for sharing users’ HIV status with other companies, doesn’t come away from this evaluation unscathed.
In fact, according to study authors, Grindr sends data to Braze “every few minutes when the app is in use.” That data includes, but is not limited to, what “type of relationship the user is looking for” — whether it be “Chat,” “Dates,” “Friends,” “Networking,” “Relationship,” or “Right Now.”
Why Braze, a company in the CRM software space, needs to know which Grindr users are looking to score “right now,” is unclear.
We reached out to OkCupid, Grindr, and Braze with a host of questions regarding the study’s findings. A spokesperson from Match Group, which owns OkCupid and Tinder, responded with a boilerplate assurance that it takes users’ privacy seriously.
“Unlike other tech companies whose model relies on the sale of personal information, ours is subscription-based and reliant on engendering trust and a great experience for users,” the statement read in part.
When it comes to Braze specifically, the statement specified that “OkCupid uses Braze to manage communications to its users about its services.”
The OkCupid spokesperson did not explain why the process of managing communications with users would necessitate transmitting said users’ porn preferences to a third party.
And so we put that very question to Braze. While a company spokesperson declined to answer that exact question, we did receive a generic statement that partially addressed the head scratcher.
“We give our customers total and absolute control over what data they share with Braze, and we only collect first-party data,” read the statement in part. “All of our customers decide what data is sent to Braze.”
In other words, go ask OkCupid.
Grindr, for its part, did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Importantly, the Norwegian Consumer Council study does not limit its piercing gaze to dating apps. It also includes a look at, among others, the popular makeup selfie app Perfect365 (which, spoiler, is totally fucked). However, as users grant dating apps access to the most personal and intimate details of their lives — details that, in the wrong hands, can end relationships, estrange families, or worse — it is that particular subsection of our privacy nightmare that, at present, most concerns us.
It is clear that, based on the user data they collect and disseminate, Grindr and OkCupid should hold themselves to a higher standard of privacy. However, as the study suggests the two companies do not, that responsibility now falls on their users.