A Catholic group in Colorado, USA spent millions of dollars to identify priests using LGBT+ dating apps, sharing the data with bishops. Although the information gathering was done legally, the news has raised concerns about surveillance and dating app data privacy.
The Washington Post shared that a nonprofit organisation called Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal, spent millions buying mobile app tracking data to identify priests who used gay dating apps.
It reported that the Catholic group had found data from 2018 to 2021 from dating apps Grindr, Scruff, Growlr, and Jack’d.
This use of data is “emblematic of a new surveillance frontier in which private individuals can potentially track other Americans’ locations and activities using commercially available information”, the Washington Post wrote.
Some of the founders of this project were involved in a similar case in 2021, where Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill was outed. A Catholic site shared that Burrill, a senior figure in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was using Grindr and had visited gay bars, according to mobile app data it received.
“The power of this story is that you don’t often see where these practices are linked to a specific person or group of people. Here, you can clearly see the link,” said Justin Sherman, a senior fellow at Duke University’s public policy school, and an expert on privacy issues.
Speaking on the Burrill case, “it was the first needle-in-a-haystack case, where someone sifts through millions of locations in apps and looks for one person and then tries to use that info to impeach them”, said Bennett Cyphers, an advisor to a digital rights organisation.
“It was a character assassination of a private citizen for some kind of political reason based on information [the citizen] didn’t know they were being tracked on”, Cyphers summarised.