Activists argue that a forced arbitration clause buried deep in Grindr’s new Terms of Service will give the company a free pass for violating users’ rights; urge users to opt-out.
Cambridge, MA — When many Grindr users opened the app on New Years Eve, they received a notice that Grindr updated its Terms of Service. Buried deep in the fine print is a forced arbitration clause and class action waiver: any users to accept the new terms are forced to give up their right to sue the company for any legal violations, from selling users’ personal data for profit to discrimination against app users. Existing users have until Wednesday, January 29, to opt out of the arbitration provision while continuing to use the app.
This afternoon, the People’s Parity Project (PPP), a nationwide campaign of law students organizing against forced arbitration, is spreading the word about Grindr’s new terms and urging Grindr users to preserve their right to sue by opting out. The organizers are also calling on Grindr to drop the forced arbitration clause and class-action waiver altogether.
Grindr issued its new terms just days before a groundbreaking new data privacy bill—the California Consumer Privacy Act—went into effect. Just this month, a new investigation by privacy advocates revealed that Grindr and other dating apps were selling users’ personal information to other companies for profit, including users’ sexual orientation and exact location. In 2018, Grindr came under fire for sharing users’ H.I.V. status. By instituting forced arbitration for users, Grindr has effectively closed the door to anyone hoping to enforce their privacy rights.
Forced arbitration clauses bar consumers from bringing lawsuits when corporations violate their rights. Instead of going to court, consumers subject to forced arbitration agreements must resolve their claims with a private arbitrator—who is often hand-picked and paid by the defending company. This secretive, unregulated, and privatized justice system is clearly stacked in favor of big corporations: according to the Economic Policy Institute, consumers obtained relief in just nine percent of arbitrated disputes. Forced arbitration is a growing threat to consumer rights: Amazon, Uber, Wells Fargo, and Equifax (of data breach fame) all use forced arbitration too. Grindr’s forced arbitration clause also includes a “class action waiver,” which require users to bring claims individually, rather than as a group—making it too expensive for most users to bring claims. Arbitrations are secret and virtually unreviewable by courts, so even if users do prove that Grindr violated their rights, the public might never know.
“Grindr has a lot of highly sensitive and personal data on its users. By forcing users to sign arbitration clauses, it is protecting itself from consequences should it misuse or fail to protect that information,” said Andre Manuel, a Harvard Law student and PPP organizer. “That Grindr snuck in the clauses on New Years Eve is proof they think they have something to hide — LGBTQ people should be very concerned about the company’s anti-consumer practices.”
Grindr users have a narrow window to opt-out—anyone who joined the app before 2020 have until January 29 to opt out of forced arbitration. New users have 30 days from when they accepted the Terms of Service to do so. To opt out, users must send the company an email or letter with a copy of their driver’s license. Because transgender people face systemic barriers to getting ID that accurately reflects their gender, Grindr is effectively requiring transgender users to out themselves and reveal their deadnames to retain their right to sue.
“When LGBTQ people are forced to agree to arbitration clauses, they are effectively signing away their civil rights,” said Jared Odessky, an LGBTQ labor activist and People’s Parity Project organizer. “It is shameful that an app like Grindr that purports to serve the LGBTQ community would adopt a practice that has been used time and time again to prevent LGBTQ people from seeking redress for discrimination and harassment. And it’s frankly transphobic for the company to demand that users turn over their drivers licenses when they know that accurate IDs are out of reach for too many transgender people.”
- Slate: “No, Companies That Force Workers to Sign Away Their Right to Sue Are Not LGBTQ-Friendly.”
- Public Citizen: “Forced Arbitration: Unfair and Everywhere” finding that consumers only won in 6 percent of arbitrations against financial institutions in California.
- Economic Policy Institute: “Correcting the record: Consumers fare better under class actions than arbitration.”