Dating Apps Come Under Fire for Sharing Personal Data with Third Parties

  • Monday, February 03 2020 @ 05:27 pm
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Dating Apps under Fire for Sharing Personal Data with Third Parties

Popular dating apps including Tinder, OkCupid, Happn, and Grindr have come under fire from consumer rights groups and privacy coalitions for sharing personal data of their users with third parties, specifically advertisers.

A study was published this month from the Norwegian Consumer Council that showed 10 apps were collecting sensitive information including a user’s exact location from GPS tracking, sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs, drug use and other information and sharing it with at least 135 different third party companies, according to several reports. Some of those businesses included household names like Google and Facebook, but also lesser-known adtech companies such as OpenX, MoPub, and AppNexus. The study only looked at apps on Android phones, according to NPR.

This type of data collection and sharing violates the European Union’s rules to protect user data online under the General Data Protection Regulation.

U.S. rights groups were equally alarmed by the study and called on Congress to pass new laws more in line with Europe’s to protect consumer privacy. California recently passed the California Consumer Privacy Act, where customers can opt out of the sale of personal information, and if the company doesn’t comply, the customer can sue. With the release of the NCC study, these companies could already be violating the new California law, according to the ACLU who wrote to the state’s Attorney General about it.

"These apps and online services spy on people, collect vast amounts of personal data and share it with third parties without people's knowledge," Burcu Kilic, a lawyer with Public Citizen, told NPR. "We need to regulate it now, before it's too late."

Personal data is one of the most valuable assets tech companies can provide, and it is often what drives revenue growth, so there’s little incentive for these companies to stop. The lack of oversight is especially concerning for dating app users, since more personal and private information is shared compared to other apps. 

Grindr has come under fire before for sharing HIV status of customers with third parties following a Buzzfeed expose on the company’s practices. U.S. government agency CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.) has also intervened in Grindr’s business practices. The agency requested that the dating app’s owner, Chinese gaming company Kunlun, sell Grindr over the concern that the company could share sensitive user data with the Chinese government. Kunlun agreed in March 2019 to sell the company.

Match Group said in response to the NCC’s study that it complies with privacy practices, and that it only shares information with third parties that comply with applicable laws.

Still, the NCC points out how difficult it can be for any consumer to track where and how their information can be used from a dating app’s privacy agreement, since most ask users to refer to third party apps’ privacy policies in addition to their own, and these aren’t always identified. 

"If one actually attempts to read the privacy policy of any given app, the third parties who may receive personal data are often not mentioned by name. If the third parties are actually listed, the consumer then has to read the privacy policies of these third parties to understand how they may use the data," the study says. 

"In other words, it is practically impossible for the consumer to have even a basic overview of what and where their personal data might be transmitted, or how it is used, even from only a single app."