Over the years, we received many concerns from our LGBTQI+ community about safety and privacy while using dating apps and platforms. Our aim is to launch an awareness and advocacy campaign based on the findings and recommendations of this report.
While other research focused on mapping out the risks and status of LGBTQI+ rights in the region, our research mainly focuses on concrete ways and practices to mitigate these risks to enhance the safety and privacy of queer communities while using online dating apps and platforms.
1. LGBTQI+ communities will continue to use dating apps and platforms despite the security concerns.
Interviewees across the different aforementioned MENA countries said that they continue to use the online dating apps and platforms despite associated risks. Even individuals who had traumatic experiences using these platforms said they will continue to use them, as they are the main way they can connect with and meet other people for purposes of dating and even organizing.
2. Device (phone or laptop) security is widely dismissed.
The majority of the interviewees stated that they do not regularly update their devices, they do not use VPN or anti-virus programs or malware scanners while using their devices to connect on the dating apps and platforms. This leaves users vulnerable to spyware and hacking attacks that can gravely jeopardize their security and privacy.
3. Dating apps and platforms can be further improved to protect users.
While some of the dating apps, like Grindr, changed, improved or removed certain features to improve users’ security, there is still a lot of room for improvement to make these apps and platforms safer for LGBTQI+ communities in high risk countries. While some apps have been paying more attention to feedback and security concerns of users, they still have a long way to go to ensure that their users are adequately protected.
Sometimes the dating apps themselves put their users at risk by sharing or selling their data to a third-party. In a recent incident, Grindr sold users’ information to advertising companies, breaching the privacy of its users and putting them at risk. Such practices should be completely stopped, and users’ security and safety should be put above profits. Companies need to consistently be held accountable rather than hide behind vague and exploitative privacy policies that do not prioritize security when they knowingly serve users in countries where their lives could be at risk.
4. Users’ behavior is the most crucial for their security.
While improving the dating apps and device security mitigates some of the technical risks, still the users’ behaviour is the main source of risk and vulnerability. The sweeping majority of interviewees stated that they still use the dating apps, even during crackdowns despite the risk, and often without taking necessary precautions and protective measures. These shortcuts, while convenient and time-saving, could be the difference between life and death in extreme circumstances. Campaigning to raise awareness and advocacy to change user’s behavior is the key aspect to proactively protect LGBTQI+ users in the MENA region, and this is the main focus of this research.
5. LGBTQI+ dating apps and platforms users are targeted by state and non-state actors alike.
Interviewees stated that dating apps and platform users are targeted by state actors, and non-state actors like sextortionists, predators and blackmailers alike. The state actors targeting and entrapment is usually escalated during crackdowns on the LGBTQI+ communities. While non-state actors’ targeting of LGBTQI+ is also heightened during big incidents and crackdowns, it is more arbitrary and unpredictable, and noticeably linked to the increasing visibility of LGBTQI+ communities in MENA countries.