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Does the Chinese Government Have Access to Your Grindr Account?

Wednesday January 17, 2018

It was reported this week that Grindr founder and CEO Joel Simkhai stepped down from his position after a Chinese gaming company acquired full stake in the gay dating app. But a new report from the Washington Post finds that China experts and intelligence officials are raising concerns about the purchase.

The experts told the newspaper the Chinese government could now have the ability to demand sensitive and potentially embarrassing information on the lives of non-Chinese citizens.

After Kunlun Group completed the full buyout of Grindr, which claims to have 3.3 million users a day, it was announced the company's executives would take over leadership of the hookup app.

The Washington Post writes:

"That announcement set off alarms among officials and experts that track Chinese intelligence and foreign influence operations in the United States. 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."

Peter Mattis, a former U.S. government intelligence analyst and China fellow at the Jamestown Foundation spoke with the newspaper about the recent news of Grindr.

"What you can see from Chinese intelligence practices is a clear effort to collect a lot of personal information on a lot of different people, and to build a database of names that's potentially useful either for influence or for intelligence," he said. "Then later, when the party-state comes into contact with someone in the database, there's now information to be pulled."

Speaking with the Washington Post, Grindr's vice president of marketing, Peter Sloterdyk, said in a statement that privacy and security of users' personal data is a top priority for the company, which uses a state-of-the-art technical means to protect its user data in over 190 countries. He said Grindr never disclosed any user data to the Chinese government nor does it plan to. Sloterdyk added that Grindr remains an American company governed and protected by the laws of the U.S.

But the Washington Post writes:

"The problem is that the exact role Chinese firms have in supplying data to the Chinese government is unclear, said Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. What is assured is that - unlike in a democracy - if the Chinese government demands this kind of data from Chinese companies, the companies have little recourse but to comply."

The newspaper adds that under Chinese law, the government can argue for the vague term "public security" and compel companies to give private and sensitive information to them.

"What we need is more clarity on the implications of these sorts of purchases and what it means for non-Chinese citizens," Kalathil told the Washington Post. "At the very least, if you are thinking about blackmailing individuals or compelling people to act in a certain way, that information is incredibly valuable."

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