Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018
Entertainment

Grindr was the first great gay dating app. Now it breaks down.


2018 should have been a record year for Grindr, the leading gay dating app. With money raised from a January acquisition by a Chinese gaming company, Grindr executives have indicated they are considering breaking the reputation of the connection apps and repositioning as a more welcoming platform. Instead, the Los Angeles-based company received negative feedback for one fault after another. (Photo by Leon Neal / Getty Images)

Jesús Gregorio Smith spends more time thinking about Grindr, the gay social media app, than most of his 3.8 million daily users. An Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at Lawrence University, Smith's research frequently explores race, gender, and sexuality in queer digital spaces – ranging from gay dating users' experiences dating along the southern US border to the racial dynamics of the BDSM pornography. Lately, he wondered if it was worth keeping Grindr on his own phone.

Smith, 32, shares a profile with his partner. They created the account together, with the intention of communicating with other homosexuals in their small town of Appleton, Wisconsin. But they connect sparingly these days, preferring other applications such as Scruff and Jack'd that seem more welcoming to men of color. And after a year of multiple scandals for Grindr – from a storm of data privacy data to the pursuit of a class action lawsuit – Smith says he's tired of it.

"These controversies definitely make us use [Grindr] considerably less, "says Smith.

By all accounts, 2018 should have been a record year for the leading gay dating app, which has some 27 million users. With money raised from a January acquisition by a Chinese gaming company, Grindr executives have indicated they are considering breaking the reputation of the connection apps and repositioning as a more welcoming platform.

Instead, the Los Angeles-based company received negative feedback for one fault after another. At the beginning of the year, the acquisition of Grindr by the Kunlun group alarmed intelligence experts that the Chinese government may be able to access Grindr's US user profiles. Then in the spring, Grindr had to face scrutiny after reports indicated that the application had a security problem that could expose users' exact locations and that the company had provided sensitive data about the HIV status of its users. from external software vendors.

This put Grindr's public relations team on the defensive. They reacted this fall to the threat of a class action – alleging that Grindr had not tackled racism significantly in its application – with "Kindr," an anti-discrimination campaign that skeptical witnesses describe like a little more than damage control.

The Kindr campaign attempts to counter the racism, misogyny, ageism and shame that many users endure on the app. Detrimental language has flourished in Grindr since its inception, with explicit and pejorative statements such as "no Asians," "no black," "no fatties," "no women," "no transsexuals," and "Masc4masc", commonly appearing in user profiles. Of course, Grindr did not invent such discriminatory expressions, but the application allowed him to allow users to write virtually anything they wanted in their profiles. For nearly a decade, Grindr refused to do anything. The founder, Joel Simkhai, told the New York Times in 2014 that he had never intended to "change culture", even as other dating apps for Gay, such as Hornet, made it clear in the guidelines of their communities that such language would not be tolerated.

"It was inevitable that a backlash would occur," Smith says. "Grindr is trying to change – make videos about how racist expressions of racial preferences can be hurtful. Talk too little, too late. "

Last week, Grindr again failed in his attempt to be nicer with the announcement that Scott Chen, the well-known president of the app, may not fully support equal marriages. While Chen immediately sought to stand out from the comments made on his personal Facebook page, social media aroused the fury and Grindr's main competitors – Scruff, Hornet and Jack'd – quickly denounced the news. Some of the most harsh criticisms have been made in Grindr's offices, alluding to internal conflicts: Into, Grindr's Web magazine, first revealed the story. In an interview with the Guardian, content manager Zach Stafford said Chen's words did not match the company's values. Grindr did not respond to my multiple requests for comments, but Stafford confirmed in an email that Into's reporters would continue to do their work "without the influence of other parts of the company, even by reporting on society itself. "

This is the last straw for some discouraged users, who told me that they decided to switch to other platforms.

"The story of [Chen’s] the comments came out and it's almost done with Grindr, "said 33-year-old Matthew Bray, who works for a non-profit organization in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Worried about user data leaks and angered by a plethora of annoying ads, Bray stopped using Grindr and switched to Scruff, a mobile dating and networking app for queer men.

"There are fewer problematic options on the market [than Grindr]so I decided to use them, "says Bray.

A forerunner of modern dating as we know it, Grindr was one of the pioneers of geosocial-based dating applications when it was launched in 2009. It maintains one of the largest queer communities in the world. online, offering one of the only means of connection between gay, bisexual and transsexual men. of the world that remains hostile to LGBTQ rights. But nearly 10 years later, there are signs in the United States that Grindr may be losing ground in a dense field of competing applications offering similar services without all the necessary baggage.

Brooks Robinson, a 27-year-old marketing professional based in Washington, said, "It still looks like a 2009 app." "When Grindr arrived on the scene, it was a breakthrough, especially for people like me the time. Other apps seemed to have taken what Grindr had done, but make it better. "

Robinson now prefers to meet people on Scruff, who, he says, has a more user-friendly interface and a lot less "headless riders," those infamous dating app users who download only a faceless photo of 39, a toned torso. Unsurprisingly, Scruff tries to stand out from Grindr whenever he can, claiming to be a safer and more reliable option. It's a message that resonates. "I think transparency helps to have safer sex and less risky behavior in general," Robinson said. "Grindr acted too slowly to react to what was happening and be encouraged about the application."

In recent years, Grindr users have widely reported that spammed and spammed accounts are commonplace, raising security concerns in a community that is often the victim of violent hate crimes. "Grindr made the tracker a bit too easy," said Dave Sarrafian, a 33-year-old artist and barista in Los Angeles, who told me that the company's most recent problems had escaped him. "I trust him less and will never use him again."

And these concerns are not without foundation. In 2017, for example, a West Harlem resident sued Grindr for failing to arrest a spoofer who had stolen his identity, created accounts with Grindr photos, and sent hundreds of copies. foreigners seeking sex at home and at work. He claims to have contacted Grindr's support more than 50 times and received only automated e-mails in response.

Many users have similar stories, although less extreme. After stealing his own photos and sharing them on the app, Edwin Betancourt, 28, rarely connects to his Grindr account. "While security and usage concerns [data] a leak would make any user skeptical [Grindr]I'm more concerned about safety, "says Betancourt, a writer in New York. "You never know if the person you are talking to is even what she says she is."

Betancourt quickly realized that he needed to take precautionary steps to not be wrong about phishing and stay safe, even going as far as asking guys to write a specific word on one end. paper, then take a picture of himself by posing with him. It is not an ideal way to face a possible match. That's why he chooses more often to use OkCupid, Tinder and Chappy, a new bizarre men's dating platform supported by Bumble.

"No matter how Grindr advertises his new" Kindr Grindr ", it will never help to dispel a homosexual's concern for his safety, especially since unlike Tinder, they do not need a cell phone number to make sure we are real users, "Betancourt adds.

While same-sex couples mostly meet online, Grindr is in a particularly negative position: Earlier this year, a large-scale study by the Center for Humane Technology revealed that Grindr was the number one app that leaves users unhappy. Among its main competitors, Grindr has the lowest score of the Apple App Store: two stars. Discontented users hardly see any incentive to stay put while there are many other options.

"[Grindr] could have done more in the past to make the space more democratic and less racist, anti-feminine and phobic-phobic, "Smith said. "Now they play to catch up with more progressive apps."

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