(UPDATED) Grindr (MeFi coverage) is an iPhone app whose actual purpose is to find guys nearby whom you might fuck or vice-versa. The app’s inventor, Joel Simkhai, insists up and down the app is merely a way to make friends, which I guess is true if you think a butcher shop is a great place to adopt a stray lamb.
Grindr: It’s what you use if you’re an Italian actor looking for work.
“Our goal is to increase the number of people you’re meeting. That’s what Grindr is for us,” Simkhai straight-facedly explained.
“We hope it’s a complement to real-life socializing,” he said. “It’s one of the options you have for meeting people around you. We always encourage people to not rely on it, and not have it replace real life.” […] “We know that our guys are interested in going out,” says Joel with confidence.
Was Grindr used to facilitate homicide? No, it was not used for that “grizzly crime,” police insist, despite their inability to name any other plausible app or “social network” with anything remotely resembling similar capabilities.
You can’t use a profile photo that would actually function for the intended use of the service, ostensibly to satisfy Steve’s no-porn edict. (Gay males don’t define porn the way Steve does, nor are particularly bothered by it. Nor is what a horrified straight guy would consider gay “porn” unusual or beyond the pale of genuine gay “community standards.”)
Now Wall Street Journal testing shows that Grindr “sent gender, location and phone ID to three ad companies.” (FTM wishful thinking aside, “gender” means “male.”)
No problemo, Simkhai bullshitted:
“There is no real-life ID here,” says Joel Simkhai, CEO of Nearby Buddy Finder LLC, the maker of the Grindr app for gay men. “Because we are not tying [the information] to a name, I don’t see an area of concern.”
And here we have further evidence why it’s a bad idea to let technically clueless gays (that’s most of us) run technology companies.
If you’ve got no programming chops to your name and have never researched the topic, or have never actually followed tech news for any period longer than the lifespan of your app, of course you’ll conclude that failing to give out an actual person’s name means nobody can discover that name. That’s what a complete ignoramus might believe. (Someone else who might believe that is a troubled technologist caught with his pants down [no photos!] who just realized Steve is about to pull Grindr from the App Store and privacy regulators are about to investigate his company.) It’s gladhanding at best, delusional irresponsibility at worst.
Think back to AOL’s “data dump” in 2006, where that company, renowned for its technical savvy, swore up and down that no personally identifiable information could be found among “20 million Web queries from 650,000 AOL users.” Anyone who actually could program his way out of a paper bag might be capable of isolating actual AOL usernames inside that data. It turns out a lot of people have those programming skills, and they went right ahead and did that. (I’m not going to link to the proof of that statement. However, somebody ginned up an interface anyone could use to mine the data.)
If “three ad companies” know you’re a guy in a certain location using Grindr with a certain phone, then they know some part of you is homosexual and that you’re looking for sex in the vicinity of that phone. (There is no other use case for Grindr.) Those ad companies are now in a position to track your phone – and out you to your wife.
If “ad companies” have that information, so could other parties, including the police, spy agencies, or bored programmers (most of them straight guys in arrested development, some with a penchant for mischief). All those people are part of “real life” and can derive an “ID” from data Joel Simkhai swears up and down does not endanger users’ privacy. We’ve heard that before. But Simkhai hasn’t.
Blocking guys on Grindr isn’t gonna help. If you use the app, your privacy has been violated. In the best-case scenario, nobody uses that information against you. How much are you willing to bet on an unbroken streak of best-case scenarios?
(2011.01.03) A dynamite feature article by Tony Phillips in the November ’010 Out shows how Simkhai remains completely on-message in misleading the press about the true nature of his product. Phillips mentions “the completely nonsexualized environment Simkhai imagines while discussing his app…. e’ll eventually conjure users messaging about a hot new jazz band playing in a coffee bar down the street. This idyll is so markedly different from my experience of Grindr…. ‘So I’m just looking forward to the day when we can tell you about the jazz singer down the street’ ” instead of telling you what Grindr really tells you, i.e. who within 500 feet is hot for your cock.
Phillips has the good sense to query leading commentators on digital immersion, including Jaron Lanier:
“eople don’t see as basically feeding a spy agency for advertising.” […] Lanier sees “using the Internet to spy for the sake of advertising” as the model that will gradually “kill the middle class, democracy, and rights for minority groups.” He’s even surprised he has to explain the how and why of that statement….
“Auto mechanics will be disempowered,” Lanier predicts. “There’ll be a robotic auto assistant, and you’ll be expected to comment on how the robot is performing in exchange for being advertised at…. here’s a class war going on, and this type of design unwittingly serves people who don’t like the middle class and would rather concentrate wealth.”
Lanier’s solution? “If you want to preserve the middle class and fight the concentration of money into a small elite,” he says, “just hook up in the park.”