Lebanon News

Mystery surrounds Grindr ban, users worried

The Grindr app is primarily used by gay men looking for emotional and physical connections - and often sex. (The Daily Star/HO)

BEIRUT: A popular gay dating app was apparently banned over the weekend, but who ordered the ban and why remains unclear.

Grindr users first began noticing that the app wouldn’t connect over state-owned mobile networks Thursday. While many could connect again Friday night, some continued having problems as late as Monday evening.

An employee at the Telecommunications Ministry confirmed that a ban had been requested but, not having seen it, was unable to say who issued it or whether it was temporary.

The existence of the ban was confirmed by SMEX, a digital rights advocacy NGO.

“A representative from @touchlebanon said that the ban was in response to an order by the Ministry of Telecom, made yesterday (Jan 17),” the group tweeted Friday afternoon. “No reason was given for this order!”

But Nabil Yamout, an adviser to caretaker Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah told The Daily Star Friday: “The ministry does not ban any site unless it has a request from the judiciary or security services.”

Yamout said he was unaware of any order concerning Grindr.

A spokesperson for the Internal Security Forces also claimed to know nothing about the ban.

The Daily Star was unable to reach the Army or General Security for comment. Representatives from Touch, one of the country’s two mobile operators, did not respond to requests for comment by the time The Daily Star went to print. A representative of Alfa, the other mobile operator, declined to comment.

One of the more bizarre pieces to the puzzle: Only users trying to access the app through Touch’s and Alfa’s mobile networks appear to have been affected, meaning frustrated users could simply switch to Wi-Fi to start grinding again.

This is because no orders appear to have been delivered to the country’s internet service providers.

Three ISPs, including Terranet and state-owned Ogero, said they had received no such requests.

Still, the partial outage sparked anxiety in some quarters of Lebanon’s LGBTQ community.

“It’s one of the few safe spaces we have,” one Grindr user, who preferred not to be identified, told The Daily Star. “When you are raised in a place with intimidation in public, this provides a safe place.”

Users can be as public or as anonymous as they choose on the app, which is primarily used by gay men looking for emotional and physical connections - and often sex.

“It’s a hookup app where most of the time people send you fake pictures, and that’s all we have,” the user said.

While Grindr did not respond to requests to comment, users who opened the app Monday were greeted with a pop-up message warning them to take extra precautions in case they felt that using the app might put them at risk.

Clicking a link took users to a “Safety Guide” that included recommendations such as not posting face pictures and meeting only friends of friends.

Still, local LGBTQ rights NGO Helem is remaining circumspect about the issue until there’s more clarity. “If there is a ban, we will condemn it,” Tarek Zeidan, Helem’s executive director, said.

“But we’re waiting to see.”

SMEX, meanwhile, tweeted a backup solution Friday if authorities do not rectify the situation: “We suggest to access @Grindr in #Lebanon using one of these VPNs/solutions: NordVPN, Tunnel Bear, Mullvad, and of course TOR.”

VPNs, or virtual private networks, allow internet users to mask their location and get around censorship. They are often used in countries with repressive laws on the internet and freedom of expression.

Tor allows similar anonymity through a free volunteer network of computers owned by many different individuals and organizations.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2019, on page 3.

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