Is Grindr Sharing your HIV Status with China?

Is Grindr Sharing your HIV Status with China?

According to NBC News, Grindr may be under investigation by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment — though this may have been going on since summer of 2018.

The committee, an interagency group led by the Treasury Department that oversees foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies, allegedly began investigating Grindr as early as July 2018, shortly after the gay hookup app was acquired by a Chinese gaming company.

Apparently, the company initially raised eyebrows after an internal company email sent to a few Grindr employees by the company’s new president, Scott Chen, was leaked. In the email, which NBC published a copy of, Chen addresses concerns over a new intern — who also happens to be an HIV researcher for China’s equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On July 3, 2018, Chen informed three Grindr employees that Yiming Shao was interested in working with Grindr, and wrote an email to these employees (obtained by NBC News) that suggested putting a full-time “intern” in Grindr’s West Hollywood, Calif., headquarters to do research and work on a paper about HIV prevention that would be co-published with the company. 

“They are attracted by our brand, reach, and data,” Chen wrote in the leaked email. “We need to be extremely careful about their data request. Yiming is head of HIV prevention in China CDC. We can’t let people say this is about ‘sharing user data with the Chinese government.’”

Allegedly, the U.S. government got ahold of this info and began its investigation into the company shortly after, though Committee officials did not respond to NBC News’s requests for comment or acknowledge that it had opened an investigation.

Grindr, which has more than three million daily users, was wholly acquired by China’s Beijing Kunlun Tech Co. in January 2018 — and the deal immediately caused concern among national security experts and privacy advocates, who worried that China could use potentially embarrassing or sensitive private data from the app for espionage purposes.

Some fear, for example, that the Chinese government might be able to find out the HIV status of U.S. military or security personnel who use Grindr.

A spokesperson for Grindr declined to comment on the federal committee’s investigation and said in an email to NBC that the company “never disclosed any user data (regardless of citizenship) to the Chinese government nor do we intend to.”

“Grindr and the Grindr for Equality team periodically engage in discussions with highly respected national and international health organizations and researchers, including to help stem the spread of the deadly HIV epidemic,” the email added. “Regardless of emails you may have regarding a very preliminary internal discussion, Grindr has never engaged any intern associated in any way with the Chinese government.”

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