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Grindr sale to Kunlun sparks fears of Chinese spying

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The recent acquisition of gay hookup app Grinder by a Chinese tech company has sparked fears that China’s spymasters could gain access to millions of users’ information.

Kunlun Group Limited bought Grindr last week at a rumored valuation of $400million, ousting founder Joel Simkhai as CEO in favor of Kunlun chairman Yahui Zhou.

Grindr, an eight-year-old company based in West Hollywood, California, has denied that Chinese intelligence services will be able to use information from the app to blackmail or otherwise influence targets.

‘The Chinese government will not have access to your account,’ Grindr said in a statement after the deal was announced last year.

‘[Parent company] Beijing Kunlun is not owned by the Chinese government. This sale doesn’t change how Grindr safeguards our user data.’

But some cybersecurity experts aren’t so sure, and point out that the Chinese government is able to exert significant pressure and control on the country’s private enterprises.

Billionaire Kunlun chairman Yahui Zhou has taken over as CEO at Grindr. Some fear that Chinese intelligence could access the gay hookup app's user data after the buyout

Billionaire Kunlun chairman Yahui Zhou has taken over as CEO at Grindr. Some fear that Chinese intelligence could access the gay hookup app's user data after the buyout

Billionaire Kunlun chairman Yahui Zhou has taken over as CEO at Grindr. Some fear that Chinese intelligence could access the gay hookup app’s user data after the buyout

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai exited as CEO last week, despite previously saying he would remain on during the company's sale to Chinese gaming firm Kunlun

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai exited as CEO last week, despite previously saying he would remain on during the company's sale to Chinese gaming firm Kunlun

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai exited as CEO last week, despite previously saying he would remain on during the company’s sale to Chinese gaming firm Kunlun

‘Grindr’s assurances notwithstanding… the risk to Grindr users that the Chinese government will know their secrets has just increased,’ wrote Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin on Friday.

China has been known to aggressively target personal data of foreign civilians, with units of the People’s Liberation Army believed to be dedicated to hacking.

In 2015, Chinese hackers reportedly cracked the United States Office of Personnel Management and made off with the personal records of some 21.5million Americans.

China’s spymasters are believed to be building massive databases of personal, financial and health information on Americans, to have handy in the event of future contact and potentially as leverage in blackmail scenarios.

That could make user info from Grindr, which caters to gay and bi men and is known as a marketplace for discreet homos3xual hookups, a tantalizing source of information for Chinese intelligence.

Grindr's logo is seen. The company has millions of users around the world

Grindr's logo is seen. The company has millions of users around the world

Grindr’s logo is seen. The company has millions of users around the world

The company remains based in the United States however, and subject to American laws, Grindr vice president of marketing Peter Sloterdyk told the Post.

Sloterdyk said the company had never disclosed user information to the Chinese government and does not intend to do so, and has sophisticated technology in place to protect its users’ privacy. 

Kunlun first acquired a 61.5 per cent stake in Grindr last May, when it also announced plans to buy out the remaining 38.5 percent stake for $152million.

At the time, Grindr stated that Simkhai would stay on as CEO after the tie-up. But the company announced on January 5 that the founder was out as billionaire Zhou took the reigns.

Grindr did not explain why Simkhai had departed in announcing the completion of the deal.

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