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Grindr Buyout By Chinese Firm Sparks Privacy Concerns

Grindr
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After purchasing a majority stake in Grindr last year, ​​​​​​a Chinese gaming company has acquired the rest of the popular dating app for gay men. The acquisition means a major payday for the company, but China experts and former intelligence officials fear it could spell privacy problems for users.

Kunlun Group purchased 60 percent of Grindr in January 2016 for $93 million. The Chinese firm has now acquired the remaining stake for $152 million, according to stock filings, which some believe puts the Chinese government in a position to demand sensitive data on the app’s users, including those who are not Chinese citizens.

Kunlun Group initially indicated that Grindr founder Joel Simkhai would stay on as CEO, but following the completion of the deal, Simkhai has left the company with no explanation for his departure.

"I'm beyond proud of what we've built as a team and how Grindr has been able to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the global community," Simkhai said in a statement. "We have achieved our success because of the strength and global reach of our community. I look forward to Grindr and Kunlun's continued commitment to building tolerance, equality, and respect around the world."

Yahui Zhou, chairman of Grindr’s board, is serving as interim CEO following Simkhai’s exit. Additionally, Grindr's vice-chairman Wei Zhou has been named as executive vice-chairman and CFO, and former Facebook and Instagram veteran Scott Chen has joined Grindr as CTO.

"On behalf of everyone at Grindr, we would like to thank Joel for his inspiration and service as the founder of Grindr, and wish him all the best in the future," said Yahui Zhou, "Looking forward, we are extremely excited about the excellent work Grindr is doing in becoming a leading global technology company, serving and supporting our users no matter where they are in the world."

Though Grindr emphasized its commitment to privacy in an earlier blog post, stating that the Chinese government does not have access to users’ accounts, a Washington Post op-ed by columnist Josh Rogin has raised concerns over Kunlun’s full Grindr buyout.

“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,” Rogin warned.

China’s government has made no secret of its initiatives to collect and maintain databases of personal information, to be later used for influence or intelligence. Often Chinese companies work with the government to illegally hand over extensive amounts of data. With Grindr now fully owned by a Chinese firm, experts worry the dating company could be compelled to do the same.

Grindr’s vice president of marketing, Peter Sloterdyk, assured Rogin that the privacy and security of users’ personal data remains a top priority for Grindr. Grindr is still a U.S. company governed and accordingly protected by US laws, he added.

But Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, expressed more uncertainty.

“What we need is more clarity on the implications of these sorts of purchases and what it means for non-Chinese citizens,” she said, nothing that companies have little recourse but to comply should the Chinese government demand sensitive data.

So far there has been no conspicuous cause for alarm, but Grindr users may wish to keep an eye out for future developments. For more information about this gay dating service please read our Grindr review.