No, your Grindr activity is not necessarily private – just ask the senior Catholic priest who was outed and lost his job

Graham Cluley
@gcluley

No, your Grindr activity is not necessarily private - just ask the senior Catholic priest who was outed and lost his job

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill has resigned as the general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB), after The Pillar newsletter claimed he was a regular user of gay-dating app Grindr:

…an analysis of app data signals correlated to Burrill’s mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using a location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment for the U.S. bishops’ conference.

According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities.

Burrill has since resigned his position.

You may or may not believe that a gay lifestyle is incompatible with being a senior Catholic cleric – personally I couldn’t care what Monsignor Burrill gets up to in his private life, as long as he’s not hurting anyone or breaking the law.

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But what does disturb me is that if it’s possible for someone to purchase supposedly anonymous, aggregated location data collected by Grindr to out a Catholic priest, then it could presumably be done against any other user of the service.

Apps claim all the time that they collect no personally identifiable information from their users, and yet – once again – we discover that when there’s enough data gathered it is often possible to de-anonymise it and identify individuals.

This is a concern for everyone. Grindr user or not. Catholic priest or not.

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

One comment on “No, your Grindr activity is not necessarily private – just ask the senior Catholic priest who was outed and lost his job”

  1. The final point is the right one. It seems to me odd that the self-described "press" tends to receive kudos for privacy-intrusive activities that are forbidden to the NSA and similar agencies in other "Five Eyes" countries and cannot, in the US at least, be used to obtain evidence usable in criminal proceedings.

    This instance is one of many, and notable for the callous intentional damage to a particular individual. But the most egregious may have been the New York Times' mining of illegally obtained cell location data to track ordinary citizens daily activities and their subsequent reporting of it as part of "The Privacy Project."

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/19/opinion/location-tracking-cell-phone.html

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