Could Grindr do more to keep its users safe – and also to help solve some unexplained deaths?
The questions arise because the gay dating app finds itself entwined in a deeply unpleasant killing spree thanks to one of its users.
British serial killer Stephen Port sentenced to whole life term for poisoning four young men https://t.co/MWo7l6HIFv
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) November 25, 2016
Stephen Port – the “Grindr Serial Killer” as he is now known in the UK – has just been sentenced to life without parole after being found guilty of the murders of four young men in London in 2014 and 2015.
Port, a 41-year-old chef, would meet his victims on Grindr, then drug and rape them. They died after overdosing on the sex drug GHB – known as liquid ecstasy – which was secretly administered by Port, who enjoyed intercourse with unconscious men.
Their bodies were dumped near his flat like yesterday’s trash. Port was only caught when it was determined that it was his handwriting on a faked suicide note found on one of his victims.
As a result of Port’s conviction, police are looking into 58 more suspicious deaths linked to sex drugs.
There is nothing to suggest any of these murders are directly linked to Grindr – but more broadly there cannot be an app more useful to matching killer and victim than Grindr.
— CNN (@CNN) November 25, 2016
Lured by his profile, Port’s victims literally came to their killer’s door and willingly presented themselves to him in a way he exploited to the full.
Yet Grindr does not appear to have issued any statement about Port’s use of its services.
Heat Street has put a series of questions to Grindr but so far the company has not replied.
After Port’s arrest, several men came forward to testify that they had been drugged, or nearly drugged, by him. It is noteworthy that none of the men who survived meeting Port appeared to have complained to the police – or indeed to Grindr – about their negative experiences.
While Grindr will ban users that make posts that break its rules, the service does not appear to have a user safety policy or any way of blocking dangerous users or alerting people about negative experiences.
Although the app does have a report feature, it is not clear if this is only designed to be used for complaining about offensive chat between users. The terms and conditions of the service state: “Any suspected fraudulent, abusive or illegal activity that […]may be referred to appropriate law enforcement authorities”.
It is not clear exactly how Grindr can determine such activity or whether it has ever alerted the authorities.
Grindr holds the service usage activities of Port’s victims in its databases. It is possible they could analyse these statistics to create a database query that locates other gay men on their virtual books who have similar service usage patterns to Port’s victims that come to an abrupt halt shortly after a final encounter with another user.
Police 'may have missed clues' in case of serial killer Stephen Port, months before he killed againhttps://t.co/OzWHRl2Zyj
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) November 24, 2016
While it may not be absolutely certain that these other men have stopped using the service because they have been murdered, it would be a reasonable possibility.
The average Grindr user spends 90 minutes a day using the service. If they abruptly stop using the service, this does not appear to be of as much concern as it perhaps should be.
Port is not the only killer to have used Grindr to meet his victims. This month a court in London heard that a policeman, Gordon Semple, was murdered by Stefano Brizzi after a meeting facilitated by Grindr.
Brizzi did not dump Semple’s body after his death – instead, he tried to dissolve it in acid.
It does appear that Grindr sees its service as a neutral clearing-house for communication between its users.
But while the crimes detailed above were ultimately the responsibility of Port and Brizzi, doesn’t Grindr have questions to answer about how safe its service actually is?