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OPINION: Grindr’s Third Party Sharing of HIV Statuses Poses Dangerous Threat to HIV Community

Tags: Opinion, Op-Ed

Disclosure of one’s HIV status is rarely easy. No matter how many times you disclose or how public you are with your status, there will forever be an encounter with someone who does not know, bringing the necessity to tell this information over and over again. Most often, the talk about disclosure within the LGBTQ community comes up around dating, and dating apps such as Grindr, Jack’d, and Hornet where one could publicly display their status on their profile. Unfortunately, what many thought was information that potentially stayed secure within the app has been given to third party vendors, placing many who are HIV-positive at risk for public scrutiny.

According an article in Buzzfeed, Grindr—one of the world’s foremost gay dating apps—has been sharing information with third party vendors, including the HIV status and location of many of its users. Though the company stated that it did not share the HIV status with a user’s name or profile, the thought that this information was handed over willingly is still troubling. Grindr currently allows for the user to input their HIV status on their individual profile, which makes it available for those using the app to see.

However, many are disclosing their status and thinking it has been strictly done for the explicit use within the app. Yet the privacy policy states “You may also have the option to provide information concerning health characteristics, such as your HIV status or Last Tested Date. Remember that if you choose to include information in your profile, and make your profile public, that information will also become public,” though many people never read this fine print to know that something like this is legal.

Disclosing publicly on one’s profile is often used as a measure against the laws in the nation that hold HIV-positive people responsible for disclosing to anyone who is potentially “at-risk” of contracting the virus. Although not a complete fail-safe measure, it does add to the ease of conscience for those who are HIV-positive who look for ways to not constantly be pressured to disclose with each encounter, while keeping those not wanting to engage with positive people from ever contacting them.

HIV is still criminalized in 33 states here in the U.S., with 67 different laws penalizing those who are HIV-positive should they put someone at the risk of exposure. The stigma has survived the height of the epidemic, with many still fearful of their HIV status being placed into the wrong hands. As someone living with HIV, I too have had this fear before going public with my status. It is not something that everyone is willing to do.

There can be dangerous implications for a person who is using the app to have not only information about their status, but their identity also disclosed to outside organizations. Many users who may be out on the app are not out in their own personal lives, work lives, or social lives. That information about their identity is used for the sole purpose of engaging on the app, which could lead to consequences if used with the wrong intentions. Many places do not have job protection for people who identity as LGBTQ, despite gay marriage being a federal law. And although HIV is classified as a “disability” that one cannot be fired for, a company knowing that a staff member is HIV-positive could bypass that law by finding a reason non-related to get rid of a person.

Both domestically and globally, there are still many areas where being publicly LGBTQ can be punishable by jail and even worse: death. LGBTQ people are often targeted for their identity and people trying to live their lives using the app discreetly could be potentially placed in harm’s way should one use their address to locate them with the use of the app’s GPS system.

We live in an era where our government has tried multiple times to defund HIV prevention and treatment while it remains at epidemic levels for Black and Brown people. The current climate of society is not one where people who are HIV-positive can live publicly, safely with that information exposed. We must be fervent in protecting the privacy of those who are HIV-positive and LGBTQ—it is truly a matter of life and death should that info get into the wrong hands.