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Gay Dating Apps Shouldn't Be Run by Straight People, Says Scruff CEO

Gay Dating Apps Shouldn't Be Run by Straight People, Says Scruff CEO

"It's a safety issue for our community."

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Are gay dating apps actually servicing their communities they're profiting from? 

Staight and cisgender dating apps have been hostile to LGBTQ people since their inception, which in LGBTQ spaces are a necessity. Even today, Tinder has not publicly addressed the staggering number of transgender people who have been blocked from the platform for simply existing, because mass reporting by prejudiced cis-folks triggers an auto-block from their application. 

Gay apps have been swathed in controversy too. Grindr has faced several controversies over the last couple of years, including sharing the HIV status of its users. Or when their president's vaguely homophobic comments were unearthed on Facebook. Then there's the man who sued Grindr after his ex-boyfriend created fake profiles and used his picture to send over 1,000 men to his home and place of work. Most recently, the U.S. government forced the Chinese company who owns Grindr to sell the app because of national security concerns.

What are LGBTQ apps doing to keep our community safe? That's the question Eric Silverberg, CEO of popular gay dating app SCRUFF, poses in an exclusive interview with PRIDE.  

"Any time you have people running digital spaces that are for gay, bi, lesbian, trans, queer people, you face some risks and challenges because those leaders do not have the same intuitive understanding of our community, and of the threats and discrimination that our community has faced and continues to face," Silverberg says.

"Do the people that build these products use them?" he asks. "Do the chefs that cook in our restaurants eat their own food, right? Do the doctors that practice in a hospital also send their families to that same facility? This is something fundamental to business about making something and creating something that you would want for yourself or for your immediate friends and family and community. If that gets further and further apart, it makes it easier and easier to make decisions that are not in the best interests of the consumer or the community that you're trying to serve."

That vengeful New Yorker harassing his ex also used SCRUFF for his aggravations, but the app shut down his accounts immediately, a case Silverberg believes "speaks to why empathy and intuition is so important when you are running a digital community."

Are Grindr's continuous oversights are because of their lack of LGBTQ leadership? Businesses targeting gay and bi people but run by straight people are more likely to make decisions not in the best interests of that community, says the executive. He cites Grindr's sharing of its users HIV status as "the kind of decision that I don't think a gay-led business ever would have made."

"You can certainly imagine, like what if a big health insurer were to somehow utilize an ad network to understand the users of a gay app like SCRUFF or one of our competitors and then took that data and correlated it with their list of insured persons and decided, 'You know what, we're going to raise your premiums, or we're just going to not even cover you at all because we think the fact that you have a gay app means you're more promiscuous. You're too big of a risk.'"

This is a scenario that might have been far-fetched a few years ago, but certainly feels within the realm of possibility today. 

"There is a bigger story here, about what we expect from tech companies," says Silverberg, "about the values of those companies, but more importantly, the values of the leaders of those companies, and I think the kind of blind pursuit of growth by Facebook and by Google and by Twitter has led those companies to make decisions, to make product decisions. Facebook sees no problem with discriminatory ad targeting. Twitter doesn't seem to be bothered by the rampant and relentless harassment that happens on their platform. Google doesn't seem to be bothered by the construction of a censored search engine over in Asia."

Just last week, Vice's tech vertical Motherboard reported that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has not yet cracked down on the proliferation of white supremacist accounts on the site because it would affect some Republican politicians by proxy. Last summer, Facebook came under fire for advertising gay conversion therapies to LGBTQ folk, including youth. 

"The values of the leaders of our tech companies matter because, at the end of the day, Twitter's harassment is allowed to persist because of Jack Dorsey," says Silverberg. "Facebook's discrimination is allowed to persist because of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. Google built that censored search engine because of the values and leaders of the founders and the CEO of Google."

We have to hold companies and their leaders more accountable. "I believe we are going to see users scrutinize the values of the tech companies that either they install on their phones or interact with on their computers, and they're going to start asking harder questions, and they should. Because what we do as an industry, and certainly what we do at SCRUFF, matters. Love and sex and community and connection, this is something people think about every day, every hour, sometimes every minute, and the product decisions that we make have profound impacts on the emotional lives of our members."

SCRUFF is proud to be inclusive of trans members of our community (it was the first app to offer the gender option, Silverberg points out). They're also highly-protective of keeping user data safe and are hyper-vigilant of spam and harassment. SCRUFF has also launched several outreach initiatives including Hosting, a live trivia that quizzes users on LGBTQ facts, safe-sex practices, and more. 

"I'm grateful for it, and it makes us better," he says of SCRUFF's high standards. "That is not something that other companies can say, because they are just trying to squeeze every last dollar out of those businesses. They see them as piggy banks, not what they really are, which is very special, very fragile communities."

Following their national security risk, Reuters reports that Grindr is currently for sale and is being auctioned to its competitors, as well as other investors. Is Silverberg interested?

"SCRUFF is always open to identifying opportunities where it can expand the reach of LGBTQ people that we connect, and I hope to have some exciting announcements in that regard in the months to come. As for whether or not we're doing any deals with Grindr, I can't comment. Our mission here at SCRUFF, and it is the mission of [parent company] Perry Street Software is to connect the global LGBTQ community with each other."

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!