Tinder is storing private user communications for the Russian government

Tinder has complied with the request of the Russian government in order to continue operating in Russia.

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The Russian Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor has put Tinder on its list of “organizers of information dissemination”. This list puts the popular dating app in the same boat as Vimeo, Telegram, WeChat, and other local and international communication services providers.

Legal implications

Under the law, an “organizer of information dissemination” means a person or an entity engaged in ensuring the functioning of IT systems and/or computer programs designed to and/or used for, receiving transmitting, delivering and/or processing e-messages of Internet users. The inclusion of Match Group, LLC into Roskomnadzor’s list of such organizations means several things for the company.

First of all, it places a big technical and administrative burden on its business activities in Russia. According to the law that caused the inclusion into the registry, organizers of information dissemination are obliged to store all the personal information of users for six months. Messages, photos, videos, audio data must also be stored. Second of all, this data must be submitted to the government upon request for decryption. Usually, such request would come from the Russian security services.

The registry has been established in 2014 and since then, 175 companies had made the cut, including Match Group, LLC. Facebook and Twitter aren’t part of the registry. In fact, Tinder is probably the biggest company to be placed there yet. In the last year, Roskomnadzor has issued fines for both Twitter and Facebook for violating Russian personal data laws for about $40 each. The laws stipulate that the personal data of Russian citizens must be stored in Russian territory.

Perhaps the inclusion of Tinder onto the registry is a signal to other large communication operators to comply. LinkedIn’s blockage in Russian territory in 2015 is an example of what can happen to such an operator if it doesn’t. Presumably, Tinder’s owners have registered for that very reason.

What does it mean for Tinder users?

Tinder is Russia’s most popular dating app. So, it was to be expected that including it in the registry of companies that have to give over private messages and profiles to the government or be blocked caused some controversy and led to many jokes and memes about government officials being on Tinder.

The company has responded to being included in the registry.

Its statement was that it has registered in order to be compliant with the Russian laws, but the registration would not involve sharing personal data with the government. They also stated that the information could be disclosed in order to execute court orders, search warrants and other legal requirements, and to help prevent or detect crime and protect a user’s identity.

It’s difficult to see, however, just what exactly Match Group, LLC is going to do when it receives a request to hand over certain data from the government. Tinder’s own privacy policy makes it clear that it collects and processes data from messages between the users. Based on that data, the app, and whoever has access to the data, can easily create a user’s profile.

If Match Group, LLC, do receive such notice from the government, it’s not clear just how much information they’re going to hand over. And since many people on dating apps exchange information they would prefer to keep away from other people’s eyes, the implications of this could potentially be very significant for users, as well as the company.

Members of Russia’s LGBTQIA+ community use Tinder as a way to meet people. The country’s very restrictive laws impacting that community, coupled with this recent development, could easily place the users in danger if their information gets disclosed. The authorities having access to it would make it easy to blackmail and target LGBTQIA+ people and other marginalized communities.

In addition, if one takes into account the recent law that allows the government to fine or imprison anyone spreading misinformation or insulting the government online, it would be understandable if the Russian users would be reluctant to continue using Tinder. Most other dating apps like Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel are used in Russia and they haven’t been included in the registry. Yet.

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