BuzzFeed News has interviewed six former Grindr employees about the difficulties the gay dating app has faced since it was acquired by Kunlun Tech Group.
Their article presents an in-depth look into the Chinese gaming company’s alleged mismanagement of Grindr, pointing the finger at acting president Scott Chen in particular.
Kunlun is in the process of selling its 100% stake following an investigation from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The government arm concluded that Chinese ownership of Grindr presented a ‘national security risk’.
The sale must be completed by June 2020, otherwise Grindr will be signed over to a US-based trustee.
One of the former employees told BuzzFeed News that problems first started when founder Joel Simkhai agreed a deal with Kunlun in 2016 which was not submitted to CFIUS for review.
A mandatory review was prompted as the ongoing trade war between the US and China intensified, and rumours that Kunlun was sharing its users’ personal data with the government began to surface. CFIUS was concerned that sensitive information about high-ranking officials on the platform could be used for blackmail.
Grindr strongly denied the allegations and assured all of its members that their data was safe.
However, after Grindr’s engineering operations were relocated to the main Kunlun headquarters in Beijing, it was discovered that the workers had unlimited access to data, including HIV statuses.
The gay dating app opened its first Asian office in Taiwan 12 months ago. At the time it was reported as being a major step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in the continent, but two sources told BuzzFeed News that the move was designed to deflect media attention away from the operations in Beijing.
The high-profile CFIUS investigation killed any chance of an IPO for the market leader. Executives had originally planned for the firm to land on the Shenzhen stock exchange, before switching to focus on an overseas market due to negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ community in China. Now, the offering has now been postponed indefinitely.
According to former employees, Chen had reached out to various investors in case the listing wasn’t possible. Apparently, Grindr was presented to Match Group and Badoo but neither umbrella was interested.
Chen seemingly struggled to shift the app because he “knew nothing” about the product. During investor meetings he reverted back to saying that Grindr was a hookup platform, despite a previous effort to rebrand as an inclusive platform for every member of the gay community.
‘Kindr’ was a specially produced anti-discrimination campaign looking to condemn fat-shaming and sexual racism. One source told BuzzFeed News: “Scott openly mocked Kindr. He didn’t understand why we wanted to celebrate what he saw as ‘fat people.’”
On two separate occasions, hundreds of user moderation requests were deleted to clear the “enormous backlog”.
The employees also spoke of a rift between staff of different sexualities. This was only heightened by an Into magazine article accusing Chen of opposing same-sex marriage after comments he made in a personal Facebook post.
He said publicly that he was unhappy with the ‘hit-piece’, but promised then-editor Zach Stafford that no lay-offs would be made in the wake of the article.
However, a month later, the entire editorial staff was removed and Into transitioned to a solely video-based outlet. Grindr claimed this was an effort to increase revenue.
Read the full article here.