Grindr has been fined 100m krone (£8.6m) by the Norwegian Data Protection Authority after an investigation revealed the dating app was sharing deeply personal information with advertisers, including location, sexual orientation and mental health details.
The fine is 10% of Grindr’s global annual revenue and is particularly high because of the personal nature of the information shared.
“This is a milestone in the ongoing work to ensure that consumers’ privacy is protected online. The Data Protection Authority has clearly established that it is unacceptable for companies to collect and share personal data without users’ permission,” said Finn Myrstad, the director of digital policy in Norway’s Consumer Council (NCC).
Grindr argued that sexual orientation, a specially protected category of data, was not exposed by selling its users’ data, since some of them may be straight. That argument was rejected by the Norwegian authorities, who noted that the app explicitly markets itself as “exclusively for the gay/bi community”.
Max Schrems, the chairman of consumer rights group noyb, which supported the case, said the claim was “rather remarkable”. “An app for the gay community, that argues that the special protections for exactly that community actually do not apply to them, is rather remarkable. I am not sure if Grindr’s lawyers have really thought this through.”
Ala Krinickytė, a data protection lawyer at noyb, said the fine also created precedent for companies that simple “take it or leave it” terms of service were not sufficient to claim user consent. “The message is simple: ‘take it or leave it’ is not consent. If you rely on unlawful ‘consent’ you are subject to a hefty fine. This does not only concern Grindr, but many websites and apps.
“We do not expect any successful objection by Grindr. However, more fines may be in the pipeline for Grindr as it lately claims an unlawful ‘legitimate interest’ to share user data with third parties – even without consent. Grindr may be bound for a second round.”
Last June, Grindr attempted to blunt controversy over a different use of user data, after the company committed to removing an “ethnicity filter” from its app to mark its support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The company had long defended the feature, which allowed users to filter out people of particular ethic backgrounds from their search results, even though the company’s head of communications said as far back as 2018 that the option “does promote racist behaviour in the app”.
The company did not reply to a request for comment.