A senior priest resigns after a report connected his cell phone to the gay dating app Grindr.
A senior Catholic Church official in the US resigned after cell phone data revealed he was a frequent user of the gay dating app Grindr, rekindling privacy concerns about access to consumers’ digital data.
The US Bishops’ Conference announced in a memo on Tuesday that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill had resigned as general secretary after the workforce learned on Monday of “threatened media reports of possible inappropriate behavior”. The priest was elected for a five-year term in 2020 to assume the role of coordinating all administrative matters for the conference.
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The news of Burrill’s resignation, previously reported by the National Catholic Reporter, came after the online Catholic news site The Pillar reported allegations of his conduct to the conference. On Tuesday after Burrill’s resignation was announced, Pillar reported that it had received location data from a data provider from devices allegedly collected through Grindr. It then hired an independent data consultancy to analyze it.
Privacy professionals have long raised concerns about how easily anonymized data can be used by data trackers to determine an individual’s identity based on location, time and activity, all of which can be captured by the permission given when the app was downloaded.
The data collected by The Pillar highlights the invasive threat posed by mobile data. Pillar said his analysis of the app data “correlated” with Burrill’s cellphone shows that he visited gay bars in multiple cities between 2018 and 2020 while using the app, including while on business for the organization.
A primary concern of privacy professionals is a concept called device fingerprinting, in which a tracker looks for a unique and permanent way to identify a user, even if the data is supposed to be anonymous.
Security researchers have also found that apps collect more data than users are led to believe. A 2019 report found that more than 1,000 apps were collecting data even after users denied them permissions, allowing them to collect accurate geolocation data and phone identifiers.
It wasn’t immediately clear how The Pillar got the data.
Burrill was not immediately available for comment. Grindr and the USCCB did not immediately respond to requests for comment.