Former intelligence officials have raised concerns after gay hook-up app Grindr was bought by a Chinese company.
Grindr, the world’s largest gay hook-up app, was fully acquired this month by Chinese tech giant Kunlun Group Limited.
The Chinese company bought the gay dating app in a deal that valued the company at $400 million, buying out the stake owned by Grindr’s founder and CEO Joel Simkhai.
The new owners have carried out a shake-up at the top of the company, appointing Yahui Zhou as the interim CEO and Wei Zhou as executive vice-chairman and CFO.
But security experts have expressed alarm at the sale – and the potential for Grindr to become an asset of Chinese security services,
The Washington Post reports that experts on Chinese intelligence have warned the hook-up app could be utilised “as part of intelligence and foreign influence operations in the United States”.
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The Post reports that Beijing has recently been hoovering up data across the globe “as part of a unique and well-planned effort to build files on foreigners for intelligence purposes” – and Grindr’s new owner opens the door to it becoming the latest tool deployed.
Peter Mattis, a former U.S. government intelligence analyst and China fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told the newspaper: “What you can see from Chinese intelligence practices is a clear effort to collect a lot of personal information on a lot of different people, and to build a database of names that’s potentially useful either for influence or for intelligence.
“Then later, when the party-state comes into contact with someone in the database, there’s now information to be pulled.”
He added that Chinese companies often face pressure to fork over data to the government for “public security” reasons, and that the acquisition of US tech companies opens the door to control by Beijing.
But Grindr marketing exec Peter Sloterdyk said that the company employs state-of-the-art technology to protect user data, and that it remains a US company subject to the laws of the United States.
Former Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai said: “I’m beyond proud of what we’ve built as a team and how Grindr has been able to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the global community.
“We have achieved our success because of the strength and global reach of our community. I look forward to Grindr and Kunlun’s continued commitment to building tolerance, equality, and respect around the world.”
Yahui Zhou said: “On behalf of everyone at Grindr, we would like to thank Joel for his inspiration and service as the founder of Grindr, and wish him all the best in the future.
“Looking forward, we are extremely excited about the excellent work Grindr is doing in becoming a leading global technology company, serving and supporting our users no matter where they are in the world.”