Though it is 2022, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is far from simple. The stigma, prejudice, and discriminatory laws significantly affect the long journey of self-discovery that many in the community face. And privacy plays a massive role in the relationship the LGBTQ+ community has with the general public. For example, suppose someone's sexual orientation is revealed through a privacy breach: there can be harsh consequences as a result such as potential discrimination, loss of employment, hindered family relationships, and even physical harm. There have been historic privacy breaches relating to the LGBTQ+ community, like those that took place during the HIV epidemic, but unfortunately, such events haven't fully shaped the conversation today.

Higher risk of data breaches within the LGBTQ+ community

The LGBTQ+ community lives and breathes the Internet, with good reason. As a kid or teenager, when you are confused about your sexual identity, the first place you will probably look for information and consult is the internet. But more importantly, where the real risk is on dating apps. Data shows that while 30% of a user base has at least one dating app in its footprint. If you drill down to users among the LGBTQ+ community the data show that 25% of these users have at least two dating apps in their footprint.

There is a misconception that the internet is anonymous, though this is far from the truth. That is why many people don’t mind sharing personal data online while in real life they might think twice about it.

What are the digital risks for LGBTQ+?

When you shop on Asos, the data that can be stolen is credit card details, OR maybe your address. But, in many apps, like dating apps, we reveal much more personal and sensitive information so, if there is a breach or information leak, it can cause users significant issues. If you look at the dating industry history, the five most popular apps globally (Grindr, Okcupid, Bumble, Tinder, Manhunt) have all experiences different scandals, and not only within the LGBTQ+ apps; n 2015, a breach of Ashley Madison (a dating website for married men) even led to suicides.

Yes, the internet is a great place for so many things, from finding love to finding answers and empathy, but we mustn’t forget that any severe consequences that can come out of LGBTQ+ people’s online lives can affect their offline lives. By tracking their location and movements, their data can be used against them to gain intimate knowledge– even their medical history.

Governments and companies can use this data to make inferences or predictions – the sad fact is that this does occur even today. The use of such data shows a sad reality: the LGBTQ+ community faces a far higher pain as a result. From credit scoring to hiring and policing, profiles are increasingly used to make decisions about the subject, and acquiring user data is one way that feeds this prejudice.

Let the numbers talk

In 2018, two years after the historic General Data Protection Regulation had taken effect, the information of all three million Grindr users had been exposed– including the location data of those who had opted out of sharing such information. There are 234 countries and territories with Grindr users, and homosexuality is illegal in approximately a third of these countries. The sensitivity of this data cannot be overstated.

Police in Egypt, for example, used such data to locate targets for arrest and imprisonment, and more than 230 arrests related to the LGBTQ+ community took place between 2013 and 2017. Numerous companies also benefited from this data, for example, as it turned out, Grindr was also sending the users' HIV status and other data to two app-optimizing companies. As a result, Grindr faced £8.5 million in fines, yet the harm was already done. You do the math–who do you think suffered from this more?

Most recently, in November 2021, hackers demanded $1 million to stop the leak of private user info from the Israeli LGBTQ+ dating site ‘Atraf’. Clearly, LGBTQ+ user data is always at risk.

The LGBTQ+ community can play a role when it comes to their data

Companies are responsible to protect their users’ privacy, especially when those users are more vulnerable. But at the end of the day, we are living in a new era, where consumers are more active, and the risks a company takes [regarding their data] might not be worth the ‘bad name’ it would give to both current and future consumers.  So, while we can sit and wait for companies to take action regarding privacy, we can act ourselves; we can encourage them to use innovative technology to protect their users. We mustn’t forget how powerful consumers can be and how much control they can have in the market– just look at what happened with WhatsApp earlier in 2021 when it was the users that had a say in the privacy updates.

Almost all of our lives are lived and shared online. Taking our data seriously is crucial. The goal is to become smarter and more active consumers so that these companies have less power over you – don’t just click ‘agree on all’ and share your data; rather, reclaim it. Choose what and with whom you share! Play a leading role in the act we call ‘The internet.’

Written by Or Baram, Performance Marketing Manager at Mine,