Guest post: The 2012 Grindr Hack by Elaine Hirsch

Elaine Hirsch, writer for criminology.com and guest blogger on Approximately 8,000 Words.

This site hosts several articles on online dating so Elaine’s offer to write about Grindr was an interesting one. Given the recent hack on their servers, this article is unexpectedly topical.

The people who argue that any press is good press probably don’t work for Grindr. The uber-popular app designed to connect gay men has battled a flood of bad publicity recently after the company admitted to a hack on its servers . Such a breach is always a problem, but it’s especially significant for a company dealing with very private information.

The Australian-based app Grindr became wildly popular for its app that used smartphones to connect men looking to hook-up with other local men. At the beginning of 2012, the app had more than 100,000 members in Australia and more than 1,000,000 worldwide. But in January, a Sydney hacker discovered a way to log in as another user, impersonate that user, and chat and send photos on their behalf. The hacker also created a Web site that communicated with Grindr’s database and allowed him to view every member’s personal data, such as photos, pseudonyms, and passwords. With the vulnerability stemming from a design flaw in Grindr’s code, criminology experts find it hard to place legal blame on the hacker.

Founder Joel Simkhai admitted there was a vulnerability in both the Grindr app and in their straight-sex meet-up app Blendr. He argued that the company would have a fix ready in a “few days,” but the statement only sparked a lot of bad press for the company.

Despite a recent hack, Grindr remains the most popular gay hookup app.

Within a day or two, stories began to appear that cast doubts on just how much hacking had taken place. A spokesperson for Grindr told a Sydney newspaper that the hack only affected a “small number” of users and that the company was pushing out a mandatory security fix. The paper also noted that the hacker had not been charged with a crime and was likely to dodge any sort of legal problems.

Luckily, not all the recent press for Grindr has been bad. The Chicago-based newspaper Windy City Times notes that Grindr featured at the largest gay male dance festival in North America. The White Party takes place on April 6-9 in Palm Springs; Grindr will be making its third appearance at the festival.

If there’s been any consistent piece of good news for Grindr in recent days, it’s that despite the hacking controversy, Grindr is still the most popular of gay hook-up app. Still, many members are being more careful about what photos and other info they post to their Grindr profiles. It might take a while for Grindr to fully restore its reputation with skittish users, but the company’s maintains a strong following.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she currently works as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.