However, soon I learned that anyone can do the same, within a few minutes, and without any coding experience. Because Grindr measures the distance between yourself and other users, it is relatively easy to let a computer virtually approach these users from different sides, w hile calculating their exact location. Desktop applications deed to do so are publicly available online 1and give anyone access to a virtual map, on which you can travel from place to place, from city to city, and from country to country, while seeing the exact location of cruising men that share their distance online.
Hereby, the distance towards a certain user is measured from three or more virtual points nearby them.
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After having obtained the distance between users and the three virtual locations nearby them, it is simple to find out where they are located. One only has to calculate where the distances intersect with each other. Computer applications do this automatically and can find the exact location of Grindr users per request within seconds 3. Because multiple requests can be made, it is possible to scrape for information about a large amount of users.
One can, for example, create a database and collect information about all Grindr users in Amsterdam, with their location saved every minute, during a week-long time period. These users can then be pinpointed on an interactive map, together with their profile name, photo, age, height, weight, ethnicity, body type, tribe, relationship, sexual position and HIV status. Besides mapping queer communities, it is also possible to search for the location of an individual user, even if you have no idea where this user is at that particular moment.
After you have interacted with a user, for example through a chat message, you can continue to geolocate them later, whenever they share their distance online. As an experiment, a friend allowed me to track him during a Saturday night out.
While sitting behind my laptop, I could see in which restaurants he was eating, in which cafes he was drinking, and in which nightclubs he was dancing. I could also see that he went to the gay sauna at 1 a.
By making it so easy to track individuals with precision, Grindr makes its users extremely vulnerable to harassment and stalking. To make things worse, it is also possible to locate Grindr users in countries where gay men are prosecuted and repressed. After security vulnerabilities had been revealed inGrindr disabled the distance function in some homophobic countries, such as Russia, Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In some of the mentioned countries, homosexual men risk a prison sentence of 14 years or moreand it seems irresponsible and unjustifiable that Grindr enables anyone to obtain the exact location of their users in such environments.
Corporate Negligence In a recently released statementGrindr claims that malicious parties cannot obtain information that is transmitted via their app. However, a simple test reveals that this square is smaller than you might expect, and certainly not protecting users from being located with precision.
With the use of trilateration, I was able to locate users with a deviation of five to ten meters. But it was also possible to locate users even more accurately, by comparing the outcomes of several trilateration sessions. By doing so, and within a few seconds, I was able to locate cruising men with an accuracy of two to five meters, which is very precise, and accurate enough to determine in which house and room users are located.
In another attempt to provide protection, Grindr introduced the ability to hide your distance from other users. However, researchers from Kyoto University revealed that it is still possible to locate users, even if they have disabled their distance on Grindr.
This is possible because users are displayed left-to-right and top-to-down in an ascending order, regardless of whether they have disabled their distance function or not. Of course, this trick does not work in remote areas, or in countries where everyone hides their distance for safety purposes. However, the same researchers found that even when all local members hide their distance, attackers can still geolocate users, by sandwiching them between fake s which are specifically deed for this purpose.
The first reports date back toand after that, controversies followed in, and However, it seems that until today, Grindr has not taken the privacy and security of its users seriously. The first thing Grindr can do, is disable the distance function of its users by default.
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Sharing your exact location with anyone in the world should no longer be the standard, especially in countries that clearly promote homophobia. A second step that Grindr can take, is limit the accuracy of the measured distance between users 5.
This will create more uncertainty about their exact location. Thirdly, the speed and magnitude of location changes can be limited, to protect users against trilateration techniques and measurement from arbitrary points. To prevent data harvesting on a large scale, Grindr should also protect its API, by limiting the amount of information that can be requested.
To conclude, Grindr should be more explicit about the ways in which information shared by users can be obtained and processed by third parties.
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When users enable the option to share their distance on Grindr, they do not expect that this can be used to obtain their exact location. It is thus crucial that Grindr informs their users about the dangers they might face. Until Grindr has fixed its problems, the best advice is to install a fake-location appand spoof your location to a place nearby. By doing this, adversaries might still be able to globally identify in which neighborhood you live, but at least they will not find out in which house you stay, or in whose bed you sleep.
An article about this blog was published on Buzzfeed News.
Applications deed to locate Grindr users are publicly available online, and give anyone access to a virtual map on which you can travel from city to city, and from country to country, while seeing the exact location of cruising men that share their distance online. Footnotes 1. Grindr disabled access to the app on Github shortly after this post was published.
Grindr has not solved the underlying problems. The API can be accessed by pretending to be a mobile user with Grindr installed. For this, you can use a line of code. Regular Grindr users can obtain information about users per request. Grindr Xtra subscribers can obtain information about users per request. No limit was found on the amount of requests that could be made.
A geohash is a way of expressing a location using a short alphanumeric string, with greater precision obtained with longer strings. Ethical Considerations The images used in this article do not reveal the real locations of Grindr users.
No information about the location of Grindr users were saved for the purpose of this article. It is also possible to collect their body type, sexual position and HIV status. An article about this blog was published on Buzzfeed News Applications deed to locate Grindr users are publicly available online, and give anyone access to a virtual map on which you can travel from city to city, and from country to country, while seeing the exact location of cruising men that share their distance online.
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