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The Grass Is Always Grindr - Episode 1

But over time, digital platforms geared toward LGBTQ men have also created a more convenient way for gay and bi men — a population that disproportionately uses illicit substances due to social stigma, discrimination and other minority stressors — to find drugs, and for drug dealers to find them. However, those who use the app say it is still home to a robust market for illicit substances. Grindr users discreetly reference crystal meth by putting a diamond emoji in their profile, and snowflake emojis are used to get the attention of those looking to purchase cocaine. While there is no data that quantifies drug activity on Grindr, a dozen people who use the app spoke to NBC News about its prevalence.

Jones said approximately men responded to the ad he and his fellow researchers posted to Grindr. According to data from the U.


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Department of Health and Human Services, 1. Despite the many gay dating apps through which he could potentially push his product, Mike, the New York drug dealer, said he exclusively uses Grindr. NBC News spoke to several Grindr users who said they attempted to flag profiles of those selling or offering drugs, but to no avail. Under U. Like all websites and apps, the gay dating platform is protected by Section of the Communications Decency Act of The legislation, passed in the early days of the internet, is known as one of the most important tech industry laws.

But while Grindr is not legally obligated to moderate drug content on its platform, some experts say it would be relatively easy to do so. While Grindr may not be policing drug activity on its app — real police are.

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There have been several examples in the past few years of men being arrested for selling illicit substances through the app. As a private citizen or an employee, you certainly have your right to your private beliefs, but when a leader in the gay community says these things, they're disrespecting the decades-long work of marriage equality activists, and I think more ominously, they're giving credibility and oxygen to far-right politicians who continue to try and undermine these rights that we really just recently won.

What do you know about the owners of Grindr? I know that today, Grindr is entirely owned by a Chinese company.

I think what this whole incident shines a light on is just how important the identity and personal beliefs of the tech company leaders really are in This is another instance that speaks to how important the personal beliefs of the leaders of these companies: When your personal beliefs are not in alignment with the community that you're serving, it can lead you to make choices with very significant and sometimes very harmful decisions for that community. To bring it back to Grindr, they chose to sell or to give away HIV data of their members to advertisers. You have to ask yourself, "Had that community been owned by a company or led by a company that had gay men at the helm or queer men and women at the helm, would they have made the same decision and been able to perceive the consequences to their community a bit better?

Tell me more about how Scruff pursues a business model, and I guess an approach to technology, that's different from some of the tech companies you mentioned. There's a trope running around Silicon Valley right now that tech executives don't use the products that they're building We here at Scruff absolutely do. That manifested in the decision we made this year to get rid of all programmatic advertising from our app, and to forgo any kind of data integration with Facebook.

We're the only gay app — and I believe we are the only dating app, or certainly the only major dating app — who can stand here today and say that. We do not share the data of our members with third-party companies. Can you explain what programmatic advertising is, in plain speak? We ripped out banner ads.

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The banner ads, they're terrible, they look bad. They're annoying, they're scammy, they're spamming. They're extracting data about you and shuttling it all over the internet.


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  • So why are they called "programmatic? In that instant, you have advertisers who are bidding on that impression.

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    These advertisers want their ads to reach different people, and some of them want to specifically reach gay men. In this kind of real-time moment that resembles a stock exchange, advertisers see that you're using, in this case, Grindr. They can see that, and they can run an ad they think is appropriate to show you.

    This phenomenon was sold to us in the early days as a way to show people more relevant ads. Well, the issue now is that data doesn't just stop with the advertisers anymore — you can easily envision scenarios where that data about your usage of Grindr includes your listed HIV status. Now, that's a very scary and — arguably — dystopian scenario. But it's one that's become increasingly discussed and is part of the reason why the European government passed a very strict privacy law this year.

    When reached for comment about programmatic advertising, a spokesperson for Grindr offered the following: Grindr has never sold nor will we ever sell personal user information to third parties or advertisers. It is also worth noting that our primary revenue stream is through subscriptions.

    Do you believe in good faith the claims that Grindr made back in April, that they were actually going to stop allowing advertisers to receive access to users' HIV statuses? I think every gay man who chooses to use Grindr should look at the facts and should look at their history of decision-making. I think that people have very good reason to be deeply skeptical of that company in particular There is a reckoning coming for all of these technology companies and platforms that are making business decisions without considering [their] moral implications.

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    In that sense, it's interesting that Grindr has been running a campaign called "Kindr," or other social awareness campaigns that have been trying to shed a spotlight on members of the community who are typically disenfranchised on the platform. This kind of dating discrimination or sexual discrimination that happens on Grindr is certainly not unique to them; it also happens on Scruff. What kind of initiatives are you guys working on to make sure that Scruff is a safer place in the same way that Grindr has?

    I am pleased that our industry, more broadly, is shining a light on the issue of racism and sexual discrimination.

    I think if you look closely at what Grindr announced back in September, you will note that there are no actual differences in the app from the day before to the day after. That doesn't mean that there isn't more we can do, which is why this year, Scruff became the first gay dating app, and I believe possibly the first just overall dating app, to actually remove ethnicity as a default from our profile.

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    When you launch Scruff right now today, ethnicity is not listed on any profile. It can still be included if you choose to as a member, but it is not listed by default. I can tell you that that change has been well-received by our community, and there have been no negative repercussions thus far, but we didn't just stop there. We have also been analyzing profiles here in the United States that include racial language, both "I don't date" and "I only date We've started looking at our profiles that include this kind of language and begun some initial tests where we actually send in-app notifications to profiles that include racial language and invite them to take a moment and to consider how that language affects other people.

    It's not a warning — we do not imply that they have violated anything. It really is about taking a moment to consider the ramifications of your words in the same way that a close friend of yours, a brother or a sister, might when they see you perhaps saying something carelessly. It aims at educating users on behaviors that are not allowed within our platform, and it makes it easier for users to submit reports.