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Tinder could endanger LGBTQ community by sharing data with Russia

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Rachel Altman, Opinion contributor
Published 6:00 a.m. ET June 14, 2019

Police have been torturing LGBTQ in Chechnya for years. Russia’s new data-sharing demands could further endanger its LGBTQ community.

Following a Russian regulatory body’s demand that Tinder hands over user data to federal law enforcement agencies, online daters’ Saturday night “u up?” text — and much more — could become the property of Russia’s nefarious government. Tinder should firmly refuse to comply with this dangerous and authoritarian policy.

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This month, Russia’s telecoms regulator, the Roskomnadzor, added Tinder to a listof websites and apps that it forces to store user data, messages and pictures on government-accessible Russian servers. The agency can then offer that data up to law enforcement and intelligence services on demand. If Tinder agrees to provide this information, its users in Russia will have no meaningful sense of privacy on the app.

This data collection policy puts Tinder’s commitments in conflict. On one hand, users agree to a privacy policy that states that Tinder can share their information to “comply with a legal process.” On the other, the company has a commitment to its users and stakeholders. Its privacy web page directly says Tinder does not “compromise with your privacy.”

To say that putting customers’ intimate details in the hands of one of the world’s most illiberal regimes is a “compromise” would be the understatement of the century.

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Human rights issue

But the stakes for Tinder go beyond protecting individual privacy. Sharing data with the Russian government would seriously endanger Tinder’s LGBTQ user base. It would be grossly, unjustifiably irresponsible for the brand to release information that could reveal swipers’ sexual preferences to a government with a record of open hostility to its LGBTQ community.

In 2013, the federal government in Moscow passed legislation broadly banning gay “propaganda” directed at minors. In practice, this law has shut down LGBTQ health education and support services, contributed to a rise in homophobic violence and silenced LGBTQ rights organizations. More recently, the small Russian republic of Chechnya executed a violent purge of dozens of gay men in 2017. According to Human Rights Watch, these men were humiliated, starved and torturedin concentration camps. Some “disappeared.” Others were outed and returned to deeply homophobic families for even more brutal abuse.

Just this year, reports emerged revealing a second wave of detentions. Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, responded to the allegations by denying the existence of gay people in Chechnya.

Tinder should fight back

If Tinder complies with the Russian government, officials like Kadyrov could potentially access data on users’ matches and app settings that would help them systematically track down, detain and torture more LGBTQ citizens. It would become easier for law enforcement to punish and harass users who spread gay “propaganda” on the app.

Tinder cannot allow itself to be complicit in Russia’s disturbing trend of anti-LGBTQ violence.

The company’s compliance could fuel corruption and extortion across the board. In Russian politics, blackmail is a popular instrument for making tough political gains. If Tinder provides Russia’s secretive and manipulative intelligence agencies with broad user data, officials will take advantage of the raunchy messages they uncover to expose and destroy their political opponents. On a smaller scale, they could use their newfound wealth of information to enrich themselves by extorting Tinder users. Police have already been using similar tactics to extort gay men in Chechnya for years.

So far, Tinder has “registered to be compliant.” But it would be making an unforgivable mistake if it went through with this data-sharing arrangement. Maybe Tinder doesn’t care about the privacy of its users, but human lives are at stake here. The physical safety of its Russian users is now in the hands of its executives.

The world is watching. It’s time for Tinder to swipe left on Russia’s authoritarianism for good.

Rachel Altman is a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. You can follow her on Twitter: @millionthrachel

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