A long-running case against Grindr pursued by plaintiff Matthew Herrick has now escalated into what may become a precedent-setting decision on tech and free speech.
Herrick says his ex-boyfriend created fake profiles on Grindr as a form of harassment. The profiles used Herrick’s face and address, and solicited “rough, unprotected sex, orgies, and drugs.”
Over 700 people showed up at Herrick’s door responding to the profiles. He was also accosted in public, with some of the fake profiles claiming he will “say no when he means yes.” Attorney Carrie Goldberg said:“They were setting him up to be sexually assaulted.”
The plaintiff says he contacted Grindr over 50 times, but only received automated responses.
Now, he is claiming that the product is defective and fundamentally unsafe. The legal approach is one of “products liability”, usually reserved for manufactured goods such as car parts and refrigerators.
The lawsuit argues: “This is a case about a company abdicating responsibility for a dangerous product it released into the stream of commerce.”
“(…) Grindr’s inaction enables the weaponization of its products and services.”
NBC News reports that a crucial distinction will be whether Grindr is considered a product or a service. If it is a service, it will likely be beyond the remit of laws targeting manufactured goods.
Tech companies are usually protected by the 1996 Communications Decency Act in such cases – a piece of legislation which prevents platforms from being liable for user-generated content.
Recent FOSTA/SESTA legislation, attempting to make online platforms liable for user-generated sex trafficking, has been interpreted by some as an end to these protections, however. As the bills passed, a number of dating sites went offline.
Should the claim that Grindr is unsafe gain traction, it may come as another blow to the cover granted by the Act. The case comes as a number of social media sites are facing scrutiny for their approach towards free speech.
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