There are more than a million men on Grindr in the United States. Did you ever think about what happens to the things you say and the pictures you share?
It doesn't just have to be Grindr. There are a host of popular gay social apps, including -- to the best of my recollection -- Hornet, Scruff, Growl, Jack'd, Manhunt, Adam4Adam, VGL, Mister, and Daddyhunt, to name a few. There are probably a host of others, as well, all owned and operated by private individuals or for profit corporations.
Have you ever stopped to think about what is going on with those pictures of your penis that you privately shared with the stud you just felt you had to meet? Wondering about the intimate communications you published to others about the private things you like to have done to you in bed? Stop and think what they might be worth to business competitors, ex-lovers, or to litigants in a contested divorce case?
Does blackmail and extortion come to mind?
It could. It should.
Who are the operators of these companies? Do you know anything about them? Are they storing your shared communications in a massive database accessible to them - but not to you? Are they secretly sharing it with others?
There are no regulations limiting who owns any of these companies.
Scared? You should be.
Every time you go online, you are not telling just that potential lover what you are into; you are creating a reservoir of information for some private business entity to collect about some of your most secret predispositions.
When SFGN did a cover story on Grindr in November of 2012, they gushed about their international outreach, and paid tribute to the technology they have mastered. But could they now master you? How about when the police call and say they are doing an investigation? Are these companies cooperating instantly or protecting your privacy?
When a kid such as Ryan Uhre goes missing and there is information that his last known human contact was on Grindr, do they just immediately share that information with authorities? Through their press representative, they said they "always cooperate with authorities."
Oh, really? Is it at the expense of your rights, or in furtherance of a legitimate inquiry? Do they require subpoenas or just roll over, because that is simpler and cheaper?
What if you were sued by an ex-partner who, seeking to establish your infidelity, subpoenaed your Grindr account? Are these social apps saving and storing your communications? Grindr's PR department suddenly was not so responsive when we told them we were doing this type of article. Puffery they like, but sharing their own private parts they were not too happy about.
Methinks there is a lot they want you to know not.
Did Grindr actively assist the police in Uhre's investigation, or did they pose obstacles? I tried to ask the owner of the company, Joel Simkhai. I left him four messages on his private cell phone. He returned none. I mean, he at least could have sent me a message on Grindr Xtra.
Taking their time, the Grindr PR department responded to SFGN inquiries with a series of seemingly canned responses. "Of course, we cooperate with authorities," they said. Well, how and when? You mean all a police agency has to do is ask for records and you give it to them? Or do you require a subpoena? Have you gone to court to protect the confidentiality of communications sent out privately by your paying customers? How about sharing with us some of your policies related to privacy?
A spokesperson for Grindr said, "Grindr does not store delivered chats on their servers." But how do we really know that's the case? The National Security Agency once said they didn't spy on us too.
What about the thousands of people who work all these social apps from here to Australia? Who is watching the watchers, the lower-level guys that operate servers and collect communications from continent to continent? Do they have access at any time to your 'private' photos?
They do, folks, they do. You may have deleted a photo, but did they? Or is it stored on a server with your name and email address in it? Take a guess. We call this the information age for a reason.
Last year, Edward Snowden exposed to the nation how the NSA was creating an astounding and vast database of private emails that invaded the constitutional rights of American citizens. The NSA is better known today as our National Spying Agency. That's our government, restrained at least a little bit by the Bill of Rights. The social app industry is not.
When it comes to these gay hookup sites, we are talking about private companies who get their authority to start collecting and storing your private data the moment you hit that 'accept' button on their application. You know, the one saying you acknowledge and have read those rules and regulations none of us ever read.
Gay social apps have opened doors for hundreds of thousands of gay men to meet from Australia to America. Traveling often and landing in cities where I know no one, I enjoy, subscribe to, and use them.
However, I probably won't do what the Chief Judge of Florida's 16th Judicial Circuit did. An openly gay man, he posted on Manhunt some very detailed descriptions of his manhood, only to have that then shared on mainstream legal blog sites across the nation. Talk about humiliation!
The question I leave you with is this: have you ever stopped to think how much of your soul you are selling and how much of your privacy you are yielding to unknown persons when you post on these apps?
It's one thing to post on Facebook that you are eating steamed clams at the Quarterdeck. It's quite another to be sharing a text that you would like to stuff those clams into a guy's private parts.
If we can pass laws that outlaw revenge porn, maybe we ought to be passing laws mandating that social apps like the ones I mention here be federally prohibited from collecting, saving, and storing shared communications between adults on servers.
Let's mandate that the Manhunts of the world be banned from seeing into your private one.