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Grindr warns Egyptian police may be using fake accounts to trap users

Grindr, a gay dating app, has increased its warnings to users in Egypt. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)
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Grindr, the world’s leading gay dating app, is warning its users in Egypt that police are allegedly using fake accounts to entrap those seeking dates on the platform, after a spike in arrests of LGBTQ people last weekend.

“We have been alerted that Egyptian police is actively making arrests of gay, bi, and trans people on digital platforms,” said a safety post that Grindr has been sending, hourly since Monday, to its users in Egypt. “They are using fake accounts and have also taken over accounts from real community members who have already been arrested and had their phones taken.”

The post also says: “Please take extra caution both online and offline, including with accounts that may have seemed legitimate in the past.”

Egyptian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Washington Post could not independently verify Grindr’s claims.

Patrick Lenihan, head of global communications at Grindr, said in an emailed statement that the company is working with groups on the ground to keep users safe and “pushing international organizations and governments to demand justice and safety for the Egyptian LGBTQ community.”

After debuting in 2009, Grindr quickly surged in popularity. It attracts about 12 million monthly active users, according to company data.

Grindr and other platforms like it can be a vital source of connection for LGBTQ communities in places where being gay is stigmatized or criminalized, and seeking connections in person is especially dangerous.

But a report last month by Human Rights Watch outlined how “state actors and private individuals” in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa — including Egypt — have “entrapped” LGBTQ people on dating apps.

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Grindr says it has at least hundreds of thousands of users in Egypt, where LGTBQ people have long faced crackdowns and police entrapment, according to human rights organizations. (Grindr posted a similar warning to Egyptian users in 2014.) Before this week, Grindr was sending a more general, daily safety message in the country; but the app made the message more specific and more often after local rights groups informed them that dozens of gay people had been reportedly arrested over the weekend, Lenihan said.

While homosexuality is not criminalized in Egypt, officials have used “public morality” laws that punish “debauchery” as a legal basis for prosecuting men who are suspected of same-sex relations, according to the global aid organization Amera International.

The U.S. State Department noted “significant human rights” issues in Egypt in a 2021 report, including credible accounts of violence “targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons.”

In its recent report, HRW said that cases it examined in Egypt suggested, “a policy coordinated by the Egyptian government, both online and offline, to persecute LGBT people.”

During one reported instance, a 27-year-old gay man from Egypt told HRW he was arrested while meeting a man from Grindr in Giza. He was allegedly held in a “morality ward” with no food or water and beaten until he confessed to “practicing debauchery.”

“When they came back with a police report, I was surprised to see the guy I met on Grindr is one of the officers,” he said.

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HRW, which has reported that these alleged instances of internet entrapment in Egypt go back to 2001, has accused digital platforms, including Grindr, of “not doing enough to protect users vulnerable to digital targeting.”

Lenihan, the Grindr spokesperson, emphasized that security tools have been developed to keep users safe, although discussing them publicly could threaten their efficacy.

Grindr has operated in several countries where being LGBTQ can have serious consequences, including Iraq and Tunisia. It has sent safety messages to users in 90 countries.

Kyle Rempfer contributed to this report.