Is Your Location Really Safe On Gay Hookup Apps?
Yikes! The #Masc4Masc Equinox-obsessed man looking for a “hung pwr bttm” on Grindr just messaged you, and according to his shown location, is only creeping closer and closer to your booth in Taco Bell. Having just consumed two Quesarito Big Boxes, you’re in no shape or mood to be torn apart during this casual encounter. So instead of answering his sexual pleas, you set your profile photo to an image of a lamppost, tactically turn off the “show distance” feature in the app’s privacy settings, and pray this mystery man doesn’t find you.
For the most part, individuals on gay hookup apps with geolocation features like Grindr, Hornet, and Jack’d feel comfortable sharing their close proximity with fellow men on the prowl for discreet quickies and romantic dates. Presumably, this is due in part to the assumed safety one feels when scrolling through dozens of avatars of faceless bod pics and aestheticized selfies. How could any random guy hunt us down and stalk us based on the knowledge that our chiseled abs are approximately 549 feet away from him? Well as it turns out, any horned up individual on the grind can—and possibly will.
Switching off the displayed location mode might make those involved in gay cruising culture feel more secure while virtually seeking out sexcapades, but a recent study conducted by Kyoto University suggests that it shouldn’t. Sex-seeking folk, it says, should be more careful and aware of these apps’ risks.
In the paper outlining the study—which was published in the computer science journal Transactions on Advanced Communications Technology—three researchers detailed the ways in which any random dude can track down any phone, down to a few feet (sometimes even centimeters), so long as one of these hookup apps is running on the device.
By willingly sharing location-based data about its users with an incredibly high level of accuracy, Grindr basically hands over the security of its users to any other user or anonymous attacker. In certain situations, the person’s location can be narrowed down to their street corner, and even home.
This invasion of privacy is described by the researchers as trilateration—or, the process of determining an absolute or relative location of points by measuring distances. When put into a concrete, mathematical term like this, the threat of being stalked and pillaged is somehow even scarier. And doubly so when you consider the Grindr users who have yet to publicly come out as queer and are living in repressive, homophobic regions.
Still, this isn’t the first time users on gay hookup apps have disclosed enough personal information to put themselves in danger. With over 10 million users worldwide—a large portion of which are living in countries known for their unyielding violence towards queer individuals—Grindr, in 2014, was asked to disable their location feature.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with these apps is that the same feature that puts their users in serious danger of being violated is the reason they appeal to so many. Perhaps if Grindr didn’t display users in order of proximity, the potential dangers might be mitigated. But until then, everyone should approach these types of apps with caution.
You might be scoffing at this now, but in nations like Russia, Iran, and India—where hate crimes towards LGBT individuals are the highest—issues of location privacy on these apps are much more grave, and can sometimes even result in death. We’re not saying you need to delete the app, but it couldn’t hurt to step out of the house every once in awhile and, y’know, try and meet people IRL.
Images via. Youtube and The Huffington Post
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