Grindr acquisition by Chinese Firm Reversed by Trump Administration
Beijing based firm Kunlun Tech Co Ltd acquired a 60 percent stake in the company Grindr in 2016 for $93 Million and later completed the acquisition paying another $152 Millions in 2018. Grindr is a popular social media mobile app platform used by gay and bisexual men to meet other gay men in their area. Grindr records personal information in its databases including the user’s locations, messages, personal photos, age and HIV status. The U.S. has been ramping up scrutiny on mobile phone apps that are used by individuals in the military since this information could pose a security risk to troop safety and disclose troop movements.
In a letter dated April 3, 2018, U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal inquired regarding Grindr’s handling of sensitive information writing in part, ‘Dear Mr. Zhou Yahui:
We write to inquire about Grindr’ s policies for protecting the sensitive information of its millions of users. According to a press report, Grindr, a popular dating app tailored for the LGBTQ community, is sharing the most personal and sensitive information of its approximately 3.6 million active daily users without their informed consent.1 The data includes personally identifiable and sensitive user information such as HIV status, email address, telephone number, precise geolocation, sexuality, relationship status, ethnicity, and “last HIV tested date.”‘
The Trump Administration labeled Chinese ownership of Grindr a national security thread back in April of 2019 and took steps to ensure Grindr would not remain Chinese owned. More recently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) requested Kunlun sell off the Grindr app citing national security and privacy concerns, and gave Kunlun until June 2020 to complete the sale.
Grindr was in the news after it had shares users’ H.I.V. status with third party vendors without having clear consent.
Social Media firm Tik Tok next on the security concern list
More recently, the U.S. Military ordered a ban on Tik Tok, a popular video sharing social media platform favored by Millennials that had been used previously by the U.S. Military to recruit enlisted soldiers. The military announced a ban on Tik Tok from all U.S. military phones, however, many soldiers are continuing to use it on their personal cell phones. These apps, while popular have a tremendous potential to create security risks by disclosing troop staffing levels in each location and potentially creating an opportunity for blackmail.
“Tik Tok is a cybersecurity threat,” the Navy Marine Corps Intranet stated Wednesday in a user bulletin, adding that anyone with the app on their mobile devices wouldn’t be allowed to use the intranet. – Military.com citation
The U.S. has blamed China for hacking U.S. companies including being behind the massive security breach of 21 million records from the Office of Personnel Management.