Catholic Church leaders fear that the recent use of Grindr’s data with a senior U.S. official could lead to further exits within the Church hierarchy.
In July, Bishop Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – the church’s official spokesperson in the United States – resigned after being accused of using Grindr and visiting gay bars. .
Catholic publication The Pillar alleged that it accessed Grindr’s “commercially available recordings of application signal data”, showing Burrill’s phone “emitting connection application signals” in his office. the USCCB, private homes, gay bars and gay public baths.
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The Pillar declined to give details of how it accessed Burrill’s data, or the methods used to determine his location, but subsequent reports from the conservative blog have apparently put Catholic officials in the United States and the Vatican “On edge”, the New York Times reports.
After publishing his claims on Burrill, The Pillar claimed to have accessed data involving a person from the Archdiocese of Newark between 2018 and 2020.
Another report from The Pillar claimed that 2018 data showed at least 32 smartphones emitting dating app signals in areas of the Vatican closed to tourists.
Half of those devices accessed Grindr specifically, The Pillar claimed, while the remaining 16 accessed “other location-based dating or dating apps, both heterosexual and gay.”
The Times reports that Vatican officials met with representatives of The Pillar in June, but a spokesperson declined to say whether further investigations had been launched.
Officials from the Archdiocese of Newark have been ordered not to speak to reporters, but the Times said some have anonymously expressed “their dismay at the use of cell phone data to track priests.”
“It can be terribly threatening,” said Father Bob Bonnot, executive director of the Association of Catholic Priests. Times. “It can make all priests uncomfortable and worried.”
The Pillar’s publication of data allegedly related to Burrill was further complicated by the attempt to link sexuality to reports of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, one person telling The Pillar that the use of Grindr was “a step forward from sexual predation”.
This led to Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the editors of The Pillar, to be accused of attempting to confuse “homosexuality with pedophilia” by publishing Grindr data.
Both men are former employees of the right-wing Catholic news agency, but are said to have launched The Pillar to investigate wrongdoing among church leaders.
Flynn previously suggested in a podcast that allowing “celibate-related” clerics to engage in “immoral and unlawful sexual behavior” could “lead to a broad sense of tolerance for any number or type of sexual sins.”
The Times noted that Catholic conservatives are engaged in “a long-standing effort … to blame the crisis of sexual abuse in the church on the presence of homosexuals in the priesthood.”
To complicate matters further, neither Condon nor Flynn have been willing to release details of what data they accessed or how they were able to specifically identify Catholic Church officials.
Grindr criticized the initial release of the alleged Burrill data, calling it “homophobic” and saying the company did not believe Grindr was the source of the data, adding in a statement “[the]the pieces just don’t add up.
In a follow-up blog post, Grindr said it has launched an investigation to determine how The Pillar may have accessed data that specifically identifies its users and their location.
“The first step is to try to determine what really happened, which is difficult because the bloggers themselves have provided vague and incomplete descriptions of their work,” wrote Grindr CEO Jeff Bonforte.
However, Bonforte noted that it was “clear” that accessing The Pillar’s data “involved much more than just a small blog.”
Bonforte is linked to a report by the Catholic News Agency that in 2018 the news agency was approached by a group “motivated by ‘reform of the Church'”.
They tried to “peddle a method of surveillance that promised to uncover church members using ‘hookup apps like Grindr and Tinder’,” CNA said.
CNA, which employed Condon and Flynn as editors at the time, said it rejected the data because it was “difficult to argue that [the information]was acquired in a completely legal and moral manner.
Alejandro Bermudez, editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency, told the Times that the proposed data did not relate to Burrill, but to another “nationally prominent priest.” He said neither Condon nor Flynn had been consulted about the data offer.
Grindr proposed three possible sources for the data used to implicate Burrill, noting that none would have involved a direct violation of Grindr, instead pointing to network providers, location data brokers and ad networks as possible sources.
Grindr noted that he had stopped “sharing information about age, gender or location with any of our advertising partners” in 2020.
“We also don’t share the information that users put in their profiles with advertising partners. None, ”Bonforte wrote. “This leaves almost no data for third parties to use for ad targeting on Grindr and as a result our third party ads are not targeted at all. “
So far, the pillar has yet to release data allegedly obtained from Grindr beyond 2020.
Grindr has already faced several allegations of exposure of sensitive user data. In January, the Norwegian data protection authority threatened Grindr with a fine of $ 12 million and accused him of illegally sharing personal data of users of the free version of the app with companies. third parties.
The Norwegian Consumers Council also discovered that Grindr shared sensitive user data with more than a dozen companies, including location data, sexuality and other information.
Research in 2019 also revealed that Grindr was exposing the exact location of users, with researchers saying the company had known about the flaw for years, but declined to fix it.
In 2018, Grindr came under a similar scrutiny after admitting to sharing users’ HIV status with two outside companies for testing.
The data-sharing arrangement allowed companies to see a user’s HIV status and “last test date,” for those who are HIV negative or on pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Grindr said at the time that companies were required to provide “the highest level of privacy, data security and use of privacy,” but the data sent – including HIV status, GPS data from users, phone id and email – could be used to identify specific users.
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