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Grindr's competitors Hornet and Jack'd offer differing degrees of privacy options, but neither is immune from the Kyoto researchers' tricks.
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Hornet claims to obscure your location, and told the Kyoto researchers that it had implemented new protections to prevent their attack. But after a slightly longer hunting process, Hoang was still able to identify my location. And Jack'd, despite claims to "fuzz" its users' locations, allowed Hoang to find me using the older simple trilateration attack, without even the need to spoof dummy accounts.
In a statement to WIRED responding to the research, a Grindr spokesperson wrote only that "Grindr takes our users safety extremely seriously, as well as their privacy," and that "we are working to develop increased security features for the app. Jack'd exec Letourneau added that "We encourage our members to take all necessary precautions with the information they choose to display on their profiles and properly vet people before meeting in public.
Hoang advises that people who truly want to protect their privacy take pains to hide their location on their own. The Kyoto researchers' paper has only limited suggestions about how to solve the location problem. They suggest that the apps could further obscure people's locations, but acknowledge that the companies would hesitate to make that switch for fear of making the apps far less useful.
Hoang advises that people who truly want to protect their privacy take pains to hide their location on their own, going so far as to run Grindr and similar apps only from an Android device or a jailbroken iPhone with GPS spoofing software.
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As Jack'd notes, people can also avoid posting their faces to the dating apps. Most Grindr users do show their faces, but not their name. But even then, Hoang points out that continually tracking someone's location can often reveal their identity based on their address or workplace. Even beyond location leaks, the Kyoto researchers found other security problems in the apps, too.
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Grindr and Jack'd both fail to encrypt data that reveals the user is running the app by name, leaving that sensitive data open to any snoop on the same Wi-Fi network. Grindr, according to their paper, fails to even encrypt the photos it transmits to and from phones. All these bugs and leaks, Hoang says, likely aren't limited to gay dating apps. The location tracking attack in particular would seem to work with any app that lists users' locations in order of proximity.
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