Sunday, October 29, 2023

Grindr warns Egypt users of police accounts on LGBTQ+ dating app


Grindr, a popular gay social networking app, has issued a warning to its users in Egypt, stating that police are impersonating community members to target LGBTQ+ individuals. The app has said that police are using fake accounts and taking over real accounts from members who have been arrested. When users in Egypt open the app, they will see a warning in both Arabic and English, advising them to take extra caution online and offline, including with accounts that may have seemed legitimate in the past. Although homosexuality is not technically outlawed in Egypt, members of the LGBTQ+ community are frequently prosecuted on the grounds of “debauchery” or “violating public decency”. In 2017, seven people were arrested for raising a rainbow flag at a rock concert, and arrests of homosexuals and non-gender conforming individuals remain common.

The warning to users comes after rights groups and media have reported how authorities in the wider region are increasingly taking to digital platforms to crack down on the LGBTQ+ community. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting dozens of cases of security agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Tunisia extorting, harassing, publicly outing, and detaining LGBTQ+ people based on their activities on Facebook and Instagram, as well as the dating app Grindr. The publication also questioned major tech companies for not investing sufficiently in Arabic language content moderation and protection.

Grindr has faced criticism in the United States and has been fined in Norway for sharing personal data with third parties that could potentially identify users. The privacy policy on the company’s website outlines how it uses and aims to protect user data. It adds that its goal “is to put you in control of as much of the Personal Information that you share within the Grindr Properties as possible.” Despite this, Grindr has stated that it is working with groups on the ground in Egypt to ensure that its users have up-to-date information on how to stay safe, and is pushing international organisations and governments to demand justice and safety for the Egyptian LGBTQ+ community.

The situation in Egypt is not unique, as many countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have laws that criminalise homosexuality. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death, and in Iran, it is punishable by imprisonment, torture, and execution. In many other countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia, homosexuality is illegal and can result in imprisonment.

The use of digital platforms to target the LGBTQ+ community is a growing concern. In addition to Grindr, other dating apps such as Tinder and Hornet have been used by authorities to track down and arrest individuals. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have also been used to publicly shame and out individuals. The lack of investment in Arabic language content moderation and protection by major tech companies has been criticised by rights groups, who argue that this leaves vulnerable communities at risk of persecution.

The situation in Egypt highlights the importance of protecting the privacy and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals online. While apps like Grindr can provide a sense of community and connection for LGBTQ+ individuals in countries where homosexuality is illegal, they can also be used by authorities to target and persecute them. It is essential that tech companies invest in content moderation and protection in all languages, including Arabic, to ensure that vulnerable communities are not put at risk.

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