posted by Jude McColgan
Yesterday, BuzzFeed published an article about our customer, Grindr, and how they share user data, including HIV status, with the Localytics platform. This has led to many follow up stories and a lot of assumptions. We believe a broader conversation is at the heart of this, and is needed in finding the appropriate harmony in using the digital world (the Internet, mobile, social) with an ethical balance of technology capabilities. And perhaps, in light of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica crisis, we’re all more sensitive to data privacy.
First, to be really clear, we are nothing like Facebook and we don’t sell or share customer data, nor do we provide third party access. We are a mobile analytics and engagement company with a direct commercial agreement with our customers. We have a purpose and obligation to help our customers (Fortune 1000 companies and mobile app publishers) make better applications and tailor mobile experiences for their users. For instance, if you are shopping for new shoes, a retail app might inform you of the shoe availability at a physical store around the corner. If you’re affected by incoming weather, a weather app would quickly notify you. In these and other cases, we can assist our customers while not being provided any personally identifiable information relating to individual persons.
We protect customer data and we’re more like Apple than Google or Facebook. We do not have an advertising-based model. We have a direct relationship with our customers and we treat their data as part of that agreement. We never sell our data to third parties or advertisers. We do not offer third party API access either. Any data that is collected within the mobile app is managed on our SaaS platform and protected by Localytics in accordance with our policies.
The Full Story on Grindr
With over 400 customers, each of our clients decides how to build their apps and which features they want included. The app users volunteer the information they want to include in the app service. On a dating app, for example (which Grindr is) users can opt into providing things like their hair color, height, religious affiliation, etc.
Grindr sends us a variety of user profile data for analytics and message targeting purposes. The “HIV status” data that Grindr users were providing to the app was sent to Localytics obfuscated - a coded value was put in place of the user’s status. No one outside of employees at Grindr who knew what the coded values meant could have used the data to determine a user’s HIV status. [UPDATE 4/5/18 - This data is obfuscated only in the Android app and not their iOS app. Localytics takes several measures to keep customer data safe, however, contrary to the last statement in this paragraph, obfuscating these values does not provide greater protection to this data than we already provide.]
Grindr was using this data as a way to confirm that their own systems were capturing changes to user profiles correctly. They would look up the number of users with various combinations of profile values in Localytics and compare them to the numbers in their own systems. If the numbers didn’t match, then the engineers at Grindr would know that their systems weren’t accurately recording the profile changes users were making.
We support all of the recent attention being given to how companies are using personally identifiable information. This isn’t a “new” thing to us. We consider privacy as a human right ahead of commercial gains, and have so for years. At Localytics, personal information is solely used to deliver more relevant mobile communications. We’ve had the opportunity to makes tons of money selling data and we just don’t do it because it’s not what we stand for.
We encourage any of our customers who have any questions about what data they are sending Localytics to reach out to us.
Thanks for signing up. Look for your first email shortly!
We’ll reach out shortly to schedule a time to talk.