The Russian government is forcing Tinder to turn over all data going through it’s country’s servers — and Canadian data might not be safe.
Earlier this month, the Russian Communications Oversight Agency added Tinder to the list of companies required to hand over information as part of the country’s larger crackdown on internet freedoms.
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Along with company information, the agency is asking for user data, including private messages between people. The rule would apply to any data that goes through Russian servers.
But that could mean harvesting data from all over the world, including from Canadians who are communicating with someone from Russia or if a user’s profile is shown on a phone in Russia.
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Global News contacted Tinder for comment but had not heard back by the time of publication.
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But dating information is even more sensitive than social media data, experts warn, and releasing it to Russia — or to other countries or entities — could have devastating consequences for the LGTBQ2 community.
“Tinder has zero right to release that information that is so sensitive, so personal,” Christopher Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech, said.
In an ideal world, knowing the sexual identity of individuals wouldn’t be so risky, Wood explained. But Russia has a history of anti-gay sentiment, and laws ban so-called gay propaganda.
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“But when you have countries around the world that will imprison or even put to death LGBTQ individuals just because of who they love then, obviously, that quickly changes,” he said.
A survey from Tinder released in June for Pride month shows that one in five people come out on the internet before coming out to friends and family in person.
“That means that the data that Tinder holds is more sensitive than what a lot of people are trusting their closest family and friends to know about them,” Wood said.
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He said it’s worrisome that a government that does not support LGTBQ2 rights is asking for this type of information.
“It’s just a huge security risk,” he said. “It’s a huge breach of privacy for the LGBTQ community in the worst way possible.”
Os Keyes, a PhD candidate studying data and information at the University of Washington, said that along with sexual preference, information contained on Tinder can include things like the users’ HIV status or information regarding sex workers.
Privacy expert Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner, was outraged when she heard the story.
“This will have major implications on people’s lives in Russia,” Cavoukian said.
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She explained that Russia is one of a few countries starting to implement a “social credit score.”
That’s where the government will offer good ratings or bad ratings for everyday actions — a negative rating could come from something like jaywalking, Cavoukian said.
“Basically, (social credit scores) dictate how people are supposed to behave. And they’re ostracized or punished if they behave in the wrong way.”
For a country like Russia, which has a history of anti-gay laws, sensitive information like sexual preference could tank a score like this.
People are unaware of ‘unintended’ use of data
A major part of the problem is that people aren’t aware of how their data can “come back to haunt you,” Cavoukian said.
The information was given by Tinder users for the express purpose of finding a date, but there’s no given reason for why Russia would want this information.
Keyes explained that people don’t realize that the end result of a Tinder profile is a “massive aggregate” of data.
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“These massive data warehouses might be collected for one purpose but can very easily be repurposed for another by way of court order,” Keyes said.
What that new purpose is still remains unclear.
“I’m sure they’re not going to be used for purposes of advancing your dating interests,” Cavoukian said. “They just want to get the information and use it for purposes unintended.”
If Tinder doesn’t comply with the order like other tech companies have done, it’s likely the app will be banned in Russia.
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Social network LinkedIn has tried to resist Russia’s laws. It refused to comply with requirements that personal data on Russian citizens be stored on servers within Russia. In 2016, a court ordered that LinkedIn be blocked in the country.
Messaging app Telegram also refused to hand over user data; despite efforts, the app is still available in Russia.
A total of 175 online services are on the Russian authorities’ list requiring them to hand over user data to Russian authorities. Most are small websites in Russian regions.
—With files from the Associated Press